Lavish production values and wonderful dance combine for a world class, highly traditional new staging of evergreen classic The Sleeping Beauty.
Created and promoted over an extended period, the highly anticipated production has been lovingly and meticulously staged by The Australian Ballet’s Artistic Director, David McAllister. McAllister’s approach is reverentially traditional, but any lack of daring is more than made up for in sheer quality and beauty. Every dollar of the generous budget can be seen on stage, with exquisite details in abundance. Streamlined by the excision of select moments of dance, the spellbinding action keeps the audience completely entranced for the 170 minute running time (including two intervals).
Beginning with a prologue to the Prologue, McAllister’s storytelling is detailed and crystal clear. Master of Ceremonies Catalabutte dithers over sending christening invitations, and ultimately regrets striking Carabosse from the guest list. This first prologue runs a trifle long, squandering some of the grand entrance music on Catalabutte’s indecision. All subsequent music, however, is perfectly matched to its original purpose in the ballet.
Further clarity of direction is seen in the work of the lead characters. Melancholy Prince Désiré’s attachment to his book of fairytales explains not only his susceptibility to the prospect of waking a sleeping princess, but also provides the reason why his friends dress as fairytale characters at his wedding ball. Aurora is seen with a beaming countenance at her sixteenth birthday festivities, but when dancing as a vision to the Prince, her vision is downcast, deliberately engaging neither her fellow dancers nor the audience. When she awakens, it is clear that Aurora sees the Prince for the first time, and it is love at first sight for them both.
As well as ample solo and pas de deux work, McAllister has included wonderful dances for the corps de ballet, often filling the stage with gloriously festive dance. The garland dance climaxes with the garlands positioned as a merry maypole, with couples waltzing beneath the arches to the gorgeous melody of “The Garland Waltz.” Woodland Nymphs dance with delicate precision in act two. Act three brings a cavalcade of glorious dance, from full company glamour to exquisite solos and pas de deux. The divertissements for the fairytale characters are cut, except for those by beloved characters Bluebird and Princess Florine, bringing their work into even sharper focus.
As well as the interpretation and direction of McAllister, a chief attraction of this world premiere staging is the creative design of renowned designer Gabriela Tylesova.
In a miraculous foray into ballet costumes, Tylesova provides delightful tutus that fluff out beautifully when expanding horizontally as the dancers spin. Tylesova fashions wittily adapted balletic versions of traditional stage costumes for scenes such as the hunting party and the Louis XIV-themed masked ball for Aurora’s wedding. Of the featured characters, The Queen is blessed with particularly spectacular ensembles; her combination of blue gown and powdered wig for Aurora’s birthday is a highlight.
With a budget reaching beyond mere painted backdrops, Tylesova frames the action with a series of sturdily constructed baroque legs, which are abstract ivory swirls decorated with gold leaf. This setting appears at its very best in the grand ball of act three, with the addition of matching gold and ivory costumes, glistening chandeliers and a stunning painted mural in the rear.
For the prologue, the setting is enhanced, if a little crowded, with burgundy floral brocade curtains. Similarly, in act one the lush green foliage of the palace grounds is seen. The six fairies arrive at the christening from heavenly rear clouds, each projecting their personality in exquisitely detailed, rich pastel costumes and matching gossamer wigs. Costumes are carefully matched to the scenic colour palette of each act, with splashes of contrasting colours used for effect.
Jon Buswell’s lighting design largely serves to provide plenty of bright clear light, presenting the designs and the dancers at their best. A particularly attractive moment comes as the Prince ventures into the sleeping palace and the scene is bathed in a luscious purple haze of twilight.
Maestro Nicolette Fraillon leads Orchestra Victoria in a finely nuanced performance of Tchaikovsky’s most lyrical of scores. Featured use of harp is lovely aspect of the music.
As the titular Princess, Lana Jones is a pristine Aurora, her dancing especially nimble, sleek and poised. Jones captures the effervescent excitement of being sweet sixteen, making the impending loss of the Princess harder to take. Her balance in the challenging “Rose Adagio” sequence is well controlled.
Not seen until act two, Prince Désiré makes a very casual entrance as he wanders on with his fairytale book. Capping off a truly stellar year, Kevin Jackson is in excellent form, continuing to present a unique balance of sensitivity and masculinity. As talented an actor as he is a dancer, Jackson gives the Prince a clear character arc in act two, progressing from gloomy bookworm to jubilant potential lover.
Jackson and Jones share regal chemistry, and each of their pas de deux, from slow and measured to brisk and lively, are expertly performed.
Amber Scott imbues The Lilac Fairy with palpable goodness, radiating kindness and joy as she dances with seemingly effortless lightness.
The coterie of Fairies dance charmingly as a group, with each member also displaying individuality in their role: Amy Harris, Natasha Kusen, Robyn Hendricks, Benedict Bemet, Miwako Kubota.
In act three’s grand ball, Chengwu Guo and Ako Kondo provide truly thrilling dancing as Bluebird and Princess Florine. The pair may fall a whisker short of stealing the show, but they certainly stop the show with the rapturous applause they deservedly earn.
Proving herself to still be a very strong dancer, guest artist Lynette Wills conveys the haughty arrogance of the diabolical Carabosse, matching the villainess’ facial expression to that of her rodent servants.
The Sleeping Beauty plays at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until 26 September 2015, before playing in Perth 7-10 October 2015 and Sydney 27 November – 16 December 2015.
In this Year of Beauty, Man in Chair has also reviewed:
A wide range of company members in modern mixed bill 20:21: “If 20:21 is a barometer of the company’s current state of health, it passes with flying colours.”
Madeleine Eastoe and Kevin Jackson in Cinderella: “…performing the final pas de deux as a dreamlike fantasia of joyous love.”
Lana Jones and Ty King-Wall in Cinderella: “In splendid form, Jones gives a superbly realised performance, making the massive role seem deceptively effortless and fully engaging the hearts of the audience.”
Madeleine Eastoe and Kevin Jackson in The Dream: “Chengwu Guo leaps about with such dynamic energy it almost looks like he is a magical effect that has been added using cinematic CGI.”
Madeleine Eastoe and Kevin Jackson in Maina Gielgud’s Giselle: “Lovingly restored to full glory, Maina Gielgud’s 1986 production of Giselle returns to its place as one of the most treasured jewels in The Australian Ballet’s repertoire.”
Photos: Kate Longley, Jeff Busby
Hi Simon. Have you, by any chance, seen the Natascha Kusch/Daniel Gaudiello pairing in ” Beauty” ? I feel she is everything one hopes to find in an Aurora – lightness and grace underpinned by a strong technical command of all the choreographic intricacies of the role. Allied to this is very warm personality which can project to every corner of the theatre. In fact I felt the same way about her “Giselle” performances earlier in the year. Together with her work in “Symphonic Variations” and recently “In The Upper Room” we are very fortunate to have her as a member of the company.
Hi Adrian, Thanks very much for these comments.
As it happens, I was fortunate enough to see Natasha Kusch and Daniel Gaudiello in the Sleeping Beauty lead roles this week.
I am not as familiar with Kusch as you appear to be, but I was certainly struck by her exciting mix of technical sharpness and beaming graciousness in the role. As you say, she has a beaming smile that projects out to the full space of the theatre. This contrasted most effectively with her impassive, downcast expression when appearing to the Prince as a vision in act two. Her “6 o’clock” (split arabesque) is quite extraordinary, both in its vertical precision and in the seeming ease with which she enters the position.
Kusch’s stage beauty, grace and electric skill would be welcomed on the ballet stages of the world. It is hard to imagine that she will not be promoted to Principal Artist at some time in the near future.
Gaudiello presented the Prince as even more of a downcast bookworm than Jackson, making his first entrance in act two with his nose buried in the fairytale book. His longish hair tied into place to stop it flicking about, Gaudiello looked suitably handsome as the Prince. He dance the role with reliable strength and flair, although I think the Prince in Cinderella was more of a showcase for his particular dazzling charms and panache. There seemed to be a fleeting discomfort or bump each time Gaudiello took Kusch into the characteristic hold with her head near the floor and feet curved around behind his head. I expect that they will smooth this out as the season progresses.
Any further feedback you have on other performers in this premiere season would be most welcome, so please write back again.