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ENB: The Sleeping Beauty– Opera House, Manchester

Music: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Choreography: Kenneth MacMillan after Marius Petipa

Reviewer: Peter Jacobs

[rating:5]

The Sleeping Beauty is undeniably one of the great cornerstones of classical ballet. Kenneth MacMillan’s version, created twenty-five years ago and lovingly reproduced by the English National Ballet here, is a tribute not only to MacMillan’s personal ballet history but to British versions of the ballet that can be traced through this production all the way back through the last century to the Ballet Russes’ London production to its Russian roots in the 1890 Marius Petipa original production. Of course, the story itself can be traced further back, through the Brothers Grimm to the Perrault original from the 1690s. This is a resolutely traditional version of the story and ballet at its most defiantly classical. As it turns out, this is a wonderful thing.

This production is large-scale ballet at its most extravagant. The costumes, painstakingly restored and recreated from Nicholas Georgiadis’s original designs and notebooks, are lavish, historically setting the tale within the 17th and 18th centuries; the designs marking the progression from Princess Aurora’s birth through her coming of age to her reawakening 100 years later. The principal dancers – the fairies, Aurora – are beautifully dressed in exquisite classical tutus in jewel colours. The production design, updated by Peter Farmer, is strong on forest if light on palace and comprised of mostly flats and curtains, clearly intended for touring; but it creates a pleasing backdrop to what matters and what really works in this production, which is MacMillan’s highly musical and technically demanding choreography and the quality of the performances.

For the opening night the ENB most definitely brought their big guns to the stage. Daria Klimentová as the Lilac Fairy is an older ballerina (in ballet years) at the height of her powers. Sweetly serene, she is a commanding presence and brings extreme skill to her technically demanding rôle as the agent of goodness in a world threatened by the darkness of Carabosse, the old, dark fairy whose vengeful curse on the baby princess creates the drama of the story. Carabosse is played on this occasion, as it sometimes traditionally is, by a man, James Streeter, who brings a magnificently dramatic and pantomime-ish quality to the rôle, with his elegantly apeish attendants. All the fairies, who bring gifts to the baby princess, excel in their demanding and distinctive solos, bringing remarkable control and precision in their pointe work and expressive armography – to borrow a word from ballroom. Daniel Jones as King Florestan and Jane Haworth as his Queen bring presence and strength and sweetness to the court. Tamara Rojo, recently appointed as Artistic Director of the company following the departure of Wayne Eagling, is something of a revelation, seeing her dance for the first time. Her incredible elegance, strength, control and beauty gave me goosebumps during the Rose Adagio. You get a real sense that you are watching a true Prima Ballerina, effortlessly and elegantly concealing the effort behind such physically exacting and demanding performance. Vadim Muntagirov is a slight and slightly gawky prince but his appearance belies his incredibly lightness and strength and control. His partnering and solo work is outstanding. Rojo and Muntagirov’s solos and duos in Act III are lovely, as are the character dances by ball guests Gold, Diamond and Silver, Puss In Boots and the White Cat (Alison McWhinney and Daniel Kraus), the Bluebird and Princess Florine (Shiori Kase and Ken Sarahushi), and Red Riding Hood and the Wolf (Jennie Harrington and Max Westwell). The Orchestra of English National Ballet, conducted by Gavin Sutherland, add drama and immediacy to the experience.

This is ballet at its most traditional. The staging, structure and choreography represent a resolute dedication to the historical preservation of the art form at its finest. It is rather long, formulaic and brings no innovative modernity to dance, but that doesn’t matter when it does it this well. This is clinging to history because of what it’s worth and the values and techniques it represents and that drive excellence within dance as a whole. It’s a magnificent piece of dance theatre. Elegant, beautiful, delightfully entertaining, reassuring in a way. If you loathe traditional ballet, avoid. If you’re a fan or have never seen a classical ballet it’s totally worth seeing.

Runs until 1 December

 

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