United Kingdom Tchaikovsky, Sleeping Beauty: Birmingham Royal Ballet, Royal Ballet Sinfonia, Koen Kessels (conductor), Birmingham Hippodrome, 10.10.2013 (GR).
King Florestan XXIV, Dominic Antonucci
His Queen, Callie Roberts
Princess Aurora, Natasha Oughtred
Prince Florimund, César Morales
Catalabutte: the MC, Rory Mackay
The Fairy Carabosse, Samara Downs
The Lilac Fairy, Yvette Knight
Direction and choreography: Peter Wright
Following on from last week’s thought provoking trilogy, Birmingham Royal Ballet went back to basics with the tried and tested Sleeping Beauty of Tchaikovsky for their second presentation of the 2013/14 season. The Peter Wright version received its premier nearly thirty years ago, but the performance on Oct 10th had lost none of its glamour and gloss.
The Prologue was sumptuous tableaux: the costumes and sets seemed as fresh as they must have done in 1984. The christening of Princess Aurora was a no-expenses-spared occasion, the designs of Philip Prowse evoking a European imperialism of yesteryear; the gentlemen’s wigs were as outrageous as ever while the ladies preened themselves to great lengths, competing to see who had the most luxurious gown and sparkling jewels. Mirror bearing ladies-in-waiting were never far away to ensure that not a hair or pleat was out of place. Also typical of the excess was the allocation of six godmothers, fairies present to bestow their gifts upon the royal baby – the pas de six: Jenna Roberts was a perfect Beauty, Arancha Baselga a respectful Honour, Miki Mitzutani a demure Modesty, Laura Day a merry Song, Momoko Hirata a cool Temperament and Delia Matthews a delightful Joy. Each fairy had their own Cavalier and together the twelve wet the baby’s head with grace and style. A storm heralded the fairy-without-an-invite; borne aloft in sedan chair by her followers, Carabosse made a spectacular entrance. A miffed Samara Downs was intent upon spoiling the party, stabbing her breast as a portent of her ‘gift’ to the newborn. But like in all fairy stories such as this adaptation of Charles Perrault’s French tale, the ‘bad’ Carabosse is balanced by the ‘good’, the Lilac Fairy of a delicious Yvette Knight.
Having been blessed with beauty and the other five gifts from her godmothers, four bespoke princely suitors duly arrived several years later to vie for the hand of the now mature Aurora – BRB principal Natasha Oughtred on this occasion. A striking Garland Dance had opened proceedings to Act I (see pic). But the centre of attention at her birthday bash was Oughtred, maintaining her balance en pointe as she welcomed each of the four hopefuls with a handshake, going on to accept their roses in the celebrated Rose Adagio number. Intrigued by the arrival of an unexpected bouquet, Aurora could not resist their display and pricked her finger. This set up the mimed confrontation between Carabosse and the Lilac Fairy: the wicked amusement of Downs was countered by the blissful response from Knight, assuring King Florestan, his Queen and guests that the destiny of Oughtred was in her hands – Aurora would only sleep.
Moving on a hundred years, the forest scenery and hunting calls of Act II brought on male lead César Morales as Prince Florimund; he immediately demonstrated his star qualities with some prodigious leaps and entrechats. If anyone might waken the dead here was a prime candidate. After an amusing cameo role from Valentin Olovyannikov as the prince’s aide, the Lilac Fairy gave the Prince a graphic glimpse of Aurora: Morales became hopelessly smitten. Who would not be with Oughtred? Knight tantalisingly introduced Morales to Oughtred, spelt out by some engaging Wright choreography involving the threesome and the BRB corps de ballet – a magical sequence. And although the Lilac Fairy initially prevented Florimund from getting too close to his heavenly apparition of Aurora, Knight gave way, allowing Oughtred and Morales to fully express their mutual attraction in dance. Downs flexed the claws of Carabosse for the last time before slinking ingloriously away, permitting Morales to supply that all-important kiss.
A miscellany of pantomime characters arrived for the wedding in Act III, many providing the conventional divertissements associated with a Tchaikovsky ballet –quality dancing allied to some lighter moments. There was Nathanael Skelton and Emily Smith as Puss-in-Boots and the White Cat, while Ruth Brill and Yasuo Atsuji were Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Oughtred and Morales had plenty left for their Grand pas de deux and the expansive finale brought the dancing to an impressive close.
Dancers themselves do not a great Sleeping Beauty make; justice must also be given to the sweeping music of Tchaikovsky (thought by many to be the best of his ballets musically). The Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Musical Director, Koen Kessels, and led by the ever reliable Robert Gibbs, did the necessary. In Act I, their ensemble playing in the descriptive Valse & Scene and then to the luxurious Rose Adagio strains were stunning. And having accepted the bogus bunch of flowers from Carabosse, Kessels built the tension superbly. When Carabosse entered the sparks flew on stage and in the pit, only to be beautifully countered by the reintroduction of the catchy motif of the Lilac Fairy, surely one of Tchaikovsky’s greatest tunes. The brass section also had their moments, opening Act II with some rousing tally-hos. As Florimund’s thoughts of the chase turned to a more romantic kind, I thought Gibbs’ rendition of the violin solo was consummate, while the cello of James Potter exquisitely accompanied Aurora’s solo. And as the entertainment for the wedding feast got under way, the animal noises were well replicated by the woodwind section.
Sleeping Beauty is not a ballet where you have to think too much, you just sit back and soak up the atmosphere. This production allowed both young and old in the audience to do just that.