United Kingdom Tchaikovsky, The Sleeping Beauty: Dancers of English National Ballet, Orchestra of English National Ballet / Gavin Sutherland (conductor). London Coliseum, London, 9.1.2012. (JPr)
Princess Aurora: Tamara Rojo
Prince Désiré: Vadim Muntagirov
Bluebird: Yonah Acosta
Princess Florine: Shiori Kase
Lilac Fairy: Dana Klimentova
Master of Ceremonies: Michael Coleman
Fairy of the Golden Vine: Nancy Osbaldeston
Diamond: Begoña Cao
Former prima ballerina of the Royal Ballet Tamara Rojo has an enviable task of now being artistic director of a rival ballet company, English National Ballet, and having to balance artistic ambition against box office income. But apart from that, she has not yet retired from dancing and needs to give herself something to do. This will naturally be – at the moment – in choreography she has often had no previous association with and in ballets she has herself made no scheduling decisions about. Although Ms Rojo kept warm by dancing in the occasional Nutcracker performance during its recent lengthy run at the London Coliseum, this Sleeping Beauty was her more significant London debut in her new ‘role’. It is to her credit that she put herself into the firing line on the opening night at the Coliseum rather than any one of the other lead principals in this nineteenth-century ballet that is one of the greatest tests for a classical company. If looked at from the ensemble aspect, it is clear that all – whether only in the corps de ballet or a senior dancer – are up for the challenge and English National Ballet are in fine shape, at least whilst on stage.
Princess Aurora, the heroine of The Sleeping Beauty does not appear until after the lengthy Prologue and she must dance almost immediately with the four Princes her parents offer as her prospective husbands. This is the infamous Rose Adagio. Each man presents the princess with a single rose as he partners her in slow extensions to the side and turns her en pointe. Between each change of partner there are, ideally, long balances before taking the next suitor’s hand as Aurora remains in position before reaching out a hand for support. Like that other great test for a ballerina, Odile’s 32 fouettés in Swan Lake, it challenges her technique, but it should also demonstrate her acting abilities as she is supposed to take her character on an emotional journey from naive 16-year-old girl to womanhood through her loss of innocence.
I am not certain how much Rojo identifies with the role as she dances with a coolness and concentration of a gymnast going through her routine on the balance beam for the thousandth time – and this haughtiness extended to her acknowledgement of the audience’s acclamation. Thank goodness the men were on hand for a quick helping hand. But there was also one stunning time-freezing balance that made me catch my breath and showed what she would still be capable of on an even better night. This sense of serene detachment worked well in the Act II Vision Scene and her dancing was more fluid, relaxed and secure in the last act wedding celebrations when there was even a hint of a smile at last. She was partnered by Vadim Muntagirov’s gawky and boyish Prince Désiré; he danced his solos with charismatic heroic vigour and superb leaps and turns. He still never seems to hang in the air just that fraction longer than is humanly possibly like Yonah Acosta in his Bluebird pas de deux with Shiori Kase’s charmingly fluttery Princess Florine. Nevertheless Muntagirov’s Act II adagio solo was beautifully controlled and elegiac and he is undoubtedly getting better and better. The final tableau was very poignant as Daria Klimentová’s benevolent and finely danced Lilac Fairy seemed to be handing Muntagirov, her regular partner, over to Rojo. It is clear that she will benefit from the partnership with him towards the end of her career in the same way Ms Klimentová has.
Most of all this was a great success for English National Ballet as a company and the overall spirit seems very high and pointe shoe noise was wonderfully controlled. They were dancing Kenneth MacMillan’s 1987 production of The Sleeping Beauty (after Marius Petipa) that originates from the American Ballet Theatre. Everything was revived or renewed lovingly when first put on by ENB in 2005, from the late Nicholas Georgiadis’s sumptuous and sparkly era-hopping costumes to very typically atmospheric and overly herbaceous designs by Peter Farmer; I especially liked the Caspar David Friedrich quality to the backdrops in Act II.
Petipa and MacMillan’s choreography give the young ENB dancers a number of solo opportunities, firstly as the six fairies bringing Princess Aurora the gifts she will need in life. I particularly liked Begoña Cao as the Fairy of the Crystal Fountain, and later as Diamond in Act III, and Nancy Osbaldeston who showed she is definitely one to watch as the Fairy of the Golden Vine with her finger pointing variation and an eye-catching Red Riding Hood. It was great to see the veteran Michael Coleman once again as the fussy and ultimately forgetful Master of Ceremonies who tries to conceal some banned knitting needles behind his back in Act I. James Streeter was an absolutely wonderful Carabosse, the wicked fairy who put a vengeful curse upon Aurora. In his (her?) Tudor-inspired dress, red permed wig and ruff he seemed like a psychotic Queen Elizabeth I but also reminded me strongly of a disgruntled Dame Edna Everage or Dame Hilda Bracket. This production leaves nowhere for dancers to hide, and nobody did.
Finally some wonderful violin solos and horn calls emphasised the fine playing of the familiar Tchaikovsky score by the always dependable English National Ballet orchestra. (Why is it that most ballet reviews ignore the music?) Gavin Sutherland, as always, was a very supportive conductor especially when his ‘boss’, Tamara Rojo, was dancing.
This was my first Sleeping Beauty with English National Ballet since they danced the version Rudolf Nureyev first staged for them in 1975 when they were the London Festival Ballet. I saw that version many times then, and in subsequent revivals, with the late Eva Evdokimova or Patricia Ruanne dancing Aurora. I have also seen the ballet many times at Covent Garden and remember especially the marvellous performances of Lesley Collier and Miyako Yoshida. Truth be told at the end I wished it had been that more realistic Nureyev production and without too much further comment I will repeat some lyrics from a Genesis song ‘I know what I like, and I like what I know’.
For more about the English National Ballet’s forthcoming performances www.ballet.org.uk.