Commemorating 70 years since Sadlers Wells Ballet moved across town to reopen Royal Opera House after WWII, The Royal Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty remains a traditional, highly decorative production with an agreeable mix of clear storytelling and virtuosic dance.
The 1946 production, by Ninette de Valois (founder of Sadlers Wells Ballet) and Nicholas Sergeyev, was updated in 2006 by Monica Mason and Christopher Newton. Peter Farmer provided additional designs for the 2006 staging, to complement the work of original designer Oliver Messel. This performance began with an appearance on stage by Kevin O’Hare, Director of The Royal Ballet. O’Hare dedicated the performance to Farmer, who sadly passed away on New Year’s Day this year.
As well as featuring scenic design on a grand scale, the production boasts exquisite, highly detailed costumes. Fairies, cavaliers, royals and fairytale creatures all look uniquely attractive while forming part of the cohesive stage picture. Costume highlights include the progress of grandiose royal fashion for the King and Queen, the dark sparkle Carabosse’s black, purple and red gown, and the luscious musk pink, with white and coral trim, of Aurora’s 16th birthday ensemble.
Marius Petipa’s original choreography is extended and enhanced by choreographic luminaries Frederick Ashton, Anthony Dowell and Christopher Wheeldon. The Prologue, which details Princess Aurora’s Christening, gains energy as the action moves from courtly formalities to festive dance. Festivities in Act I are centred upon Wheeldon’s lovely Garland Dance. Prince Florimund is given time to establish his melancholy stance in Act II before the tale moves briskly through his reawakening of Aurora. The pure beauty of dance takes centre stage in Act III, as well-chosen divertissements lead to the scintillating grand pas de deux.
As Princess Aurora, Sarah Lamb dances with seemingly effortless control and regal beauty. She performs the famous Rose Adagio sequence with expert balance, and breezes through the rigours of Act II. While Lamb’s dancing is a pleasure to watch, it must be noted that she misses some of the character development of the young princess, not sufficiently differentiating the lively hope of the 16 year old Aurora from the distant sorrow of Aurora in The Vision and the jubilant Aurora at her Wedding.
Making his entrance in act two, Vadim Muntagirov quickly establishes the aunting loneliness of Prince Florimund. The character is quick to respond to the Lilac fairy’s news of a sleeping princess, moving on with blossoming self-confidence at his royal Wedding. Long limbed and with a deceptively youthful countenance, Muntagirov brings abundant energy and masterful technique to the role, impressing mightily in solo work in Act III. Muntagirov and Lamb work beautifully together, in particular, forming the three swan dive poses with spectacular precision.
As King Florestan XXIV and His Queen, Christopher Saunders and Elizabeth McGorian ground the drama with performances of emotional intelligence. As Catalbutte, the bristling master of ceremonies, Alastair Marriott is only really given one note to play (and one costume to wear through the years) but he plays it exceedingly well.
Of the six fairies delivering christening gifts, Helen Crawford (Fairy of the Golden Vine) stands out, showing an exacting level of precision in her excellent featured solo in the Prologue. Claire Calvert has a gentle air of authority as Lilac Fairy.
Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell enjoy electric chemistry and dance with tremendous strength and beauty in the show-stealing roles or Princess Florine and the Bluebird.
Paul Kay and Leticia Stock are delightfully exacting as Puss in Boots and the White Cat.
Conductor Valery Ovsyanikov maintains a serene composure as he leads the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, barely needing to glance at the score. Flaring brass fanfares are heard to full effect, with resounding brass also enhancing the dramatic moments as Ovsyanikov moves with brisk confidence through Tchaikovsky’s jewel box of a score.
The Sleeping Beauty is a pleasure for newcomers and long-term aficionados alike. The abundant skill and loving care expended in mounting this production bring additional splendour to its welcome return season.
The Sleeping Beauty was reviewed 7.15pm 3 January 2017.
The Sleeping Beauty returns to Royal Opera House on selected dates in February and March 2017. It will be filmed for The Royal Ballet’s Cinema Live Season on 28 February 2017.
Photos: Simon Parris