Sleeping Beauty

Music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House

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Sleeping Beauty - Sarah Lamb

Once a distraction for the tsar of Russia and his court, and now a failsafe family show, Sleeping Beauty is essential viewing for every budding young dancer, and there were plenty of these in the auditorium. I'd have sold my nearest and dearest to see it at the age of nine. Adults are spellbound by its charms, too.

A defining ballet at the very heart of the Royal Ballet repertoire - it brought the House back to life in 1946 after the war - there is something to please everyone. It is at once a Baroque Masque, a pantomimic melodramatic delight (there's even a trapdoor), a battle between good and evil with love conquering all, a symphony, and a showcase for principal and soloist dancers.

Add to that a reworking of the 1946 costumes and designs by Oliver Messel, this reliable production, restaged by Monica Mason and Christopher Newton after Ninette de Valois and Nicholas Sergeyev, of Tchaikovsky and Petipa's 1890 original Russian Imperial ballet, is the perfect pre-Christmas entertainment - to be followed by The Nutcracker at the beginning of December.

Christmas lights in the piazza, visual saccharine splendour in the Royal Opera House, a perfect critic-proof gift to celebrate the festive season of indulgence and overdose. Waltzes and mazurkas, a fairytale picture book romance, a handsome prince, a delicate princess, red-eyed rats and a baddie to boo nothing to scare those of a sensitive disposition. And the most wonderful solos and pas de deux for the aficionados.

But it is a long stolid evening, three soporific hours. The pages of the picture book turn slowly - time enough to feast one's eyes on the set, the costumes and decipher the mime. Boris Gruzin conducting (on the fifth night - armistice day - I was unable to make the first) at a funereal earthbound pace, the dancers are exposed and undermined, and the drama leaches away.

Timing, pace, and musicality are crucial in this most classical symphonic of ballets. Tension is dissipated, the difficulty of the choreography appreciated. The ragged chorus seemed to be troubled by the erratic tempo, too.

Little to quicken the heart until The Vision Act Two. Yuhui Choe and Iohna Loots stand out in the Prologue dances and in the Act Three divertissements, Elizabeth McGorian is a Glamorous Gothic Carabosse, and Laura McCulloch is a tall if not very commanding Lilac Fairy.

Sarah Lamb and Rupert Pennefather have already proved that they are well-matched in the principal roles, he an elegant prince, she a porcelain beauty. Lamb takes the Rose Adagio cautiously, modestly, as a sixteen-year-old being presented to potential suitors.

Act Two changes all that. Pennefather in his first solo distils Tchaikovsky's music in extensions full of poetic longing. If Act One is the ballerina's act, Act Two is the prince's. The journey in the Lilac Fairy's carriage through the bois dormant is magical. The first meeting and dance with Princess Aurora dreamy. This is Sleeping Beauty's 'white ballet' act.

And the final act Grand Pas, the celebratory royal dynastic marriage, is touching. Finally we are there in romantic apotheosis. In dazzling white magnificence the young couple lead an homage to the king and queen, Tchaikovsky's sonorous anthem chords grandly stating the obvious. This is a spectacle fit for kings.

Unfortunately, I seem to have caught the end of the week dormant lethargy. No matter, Sleeping Beauty is almost sold out. There are seven casts to sample.

"Sleeping Beauty" is in rep till 21st December 2011

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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