United Kingdom Tchaikovsky, Sleeping Beauty: Dancers and Orchestra (recorded) of Vienna Festival Ballet, Bacon Theatre, Cheltenham, 16.3.2013. (RJ)
Catalabutte: Fraser Gaterell
Queen: Sarah Hoar
Lilac Fairy: Emily-Joy Smith
Carabosse: Anette Antal
Princess Aurora: MicAhaela Griffin
Prince Désiré: Miguel Piquier
Crystal Fountain Fairy: Yuko Tanaka
Enchanted Garden Fairy: Akiho Sakuraba
Song Bird: Sophie Stanton
Golden Vine Fairy: Chiaki Korematsu
Bluebird: Francesco Bruni
Wolf: Scott Rayner
Katrina Kelly, Samantha Bosshardt, Daniela Giannuzzi
Choreography by Shirley Grahame after Marius Petipa
Additional Choreography and Staging: Emily Hufton
When I attend a theatre or concert hall these days I become aware that I am fast approaching the median age of the audience, some of whom look decidedly doddery. The only exceptions to this rule are pantomimes and ballet, where I am conscious of being a member of the older generation, though I have to admit it was encouraging to see such a good turnout of young people (some aspiring ballerinas among them, no doubt) for this performance by the Vienna Festival Ballet.
Founded over thirty years ago by the celebrated Austrian dancer Peter Mallek, the intrepid company visits places that most others tend to shy away from. A cynic might suggest that this is because their standards might not pass muster in larger centres but, as I discovered last autumn this is definitely not the case. Admittedly the dancers do not have the luxury of a symphony orchestra to accompany them, but that does not seem to adversely affect their performances.
Tchaikovsky is a magnificent ballet composer, yet most of the time we only hear snippets of his ballet music in the form of suites. Tonight was an opportunity to hear his complete score for Sleeping Beauty which featured a number of items which were unfamiliar to me. Of course, many would argue that the visual element in ballet is more important – but the combination of great dancing and great music exerts a powerful effect – even when the music is pre-recorded as in this instance.
Initially, the performance fell a bit flat. Guests arrive for the christening of Princess Aurora ushered in by the foppish MC, Catalabutte, who has committed a dreadful faux pas in leaving the Fairy Carabosse off the invitation list. The consequences are fatal. A hint of menace enters the music and Carabosse (a fiery Anette Antal) whirls in pointing an accusatory finger at all and sundry, whipping off Catalabutte’s wig, causing general alarm and threatening revenge. But the Lilac Fairy, sweetly danced by Emily-Joy Smith assures us that all will work out well in the end.
The revenge occurs on the Princess’s 16th birthday when four suitors come to seek her hand. There are some wonderful touches here including a delightful garland dance, and Princess Aurora (Michaela Griffin) makes a stunning entrance. But beware the old crone in a green shawl who presents her with a posy. – Carabosse in disguise. Aurora pricks her finger on a needle concealed in it and falls into a deep sleep. For those of a nervous disposition the Lilac Fairy has another message of assurance.
A hundred years later we come across a hunt scene with Miguel Piquier as the handsome looking Prince Désiré surrounded by his court, with the ladies elegantly dressed in long russet-coloured dresses. Enter the Lilac Fairy who leads him to the sleeping Princess Aurora whom he awakes with a kiss. I don’t need to explain the denouement!
Sleeping Beauty is Tchaikovsky’s longest ballet and towards the end it was beginning to feel like it. There is little plot to Act 3 – just the wedding of the bridal pair and a blessing from the Lilac Fairy. Most of the time is given over to pas de deux and pas de trois by the various wedding guests, some of whom emanate from other fairy tales. The most enjoyable was the pas de deux between Puss in Boots and the White Cat (Fraser Gaterell and Yoko Tanaka) to some very appropriate music (miaowsic, perhaps?) by Tchaikovsky. The pas de deux by Princess Florine and the Bluebird (Chiaka Korematsu and Francesco Bruni) was also notable for its charm and elegance. Even so, the bridal pair in stunning white costumes managed to top the bill with a spectacular display of athleticism, grace and balletic skills.
This is a highly professional company of young dancers who alternate seamlessly between individual character parts and the corps de ballet. I only wish I had an ounce of their energy, for after two and a half hours on stage they betrayed no signs of fatigue. My criticisms are few: the long gaps between the dances on the recording slowed up the action. (Perhaps the management were optimistically expecting these gaps to be filled with prolonged bouts of applause?) And there were moments when a few more dancers were needed to fill the stage – not that this would be a problem on many of the stages Vienna Festival Ballet will use.
Sumptuous, spectacular, glamorous costumes (and a wide range of them) together with expert and lively dancing – all underpinned by Tchaikovsky’s wonderful score – make this a production which will charm and fascinate people of all ages.
Vienna Festival Ballet Tour: March – Haywards Heath, Wimborne, Bognor Regis, Stamford, Margate, Rotherham, Sheffield, Lancaster, Bridlington, Cromer, Boston; April – Swanage, Rickmansworth, Hertford, Maidstone, Hastings, Cwmbran, Melton Mowbray, Banbury, Leatherhead, Colwyn Bay, Burnley, York, Grimsby, Retford, Cambridge, Blackburn, Clacton, Welwyn Garden City, Wrexham; May – Radlett, Chesham, Newport (IOM), Weston super Mare, New Brighton, Warrington, Scarborough, East Grinstead, Worthing, Evesham, Market Drayton, Richmond, Exeter, St Albans, Bracknell.