Les Beaux dormants (The Sleeping Beauties)

Choreography Hélène Blackburn, music Martin Tétreault
Le Ballet de l’Opéra national du Rhin
Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House

Les Beaux dormants - Ballet du Rhin Credit: Nis&For
Les Beaux dormants - Ballet du Rhin Credit: Nis&For

I have seen only two of Hélène Blackburn’s works—Symphonie Dramatique in 2015, and now Les Beaux dormants created in 2018—but she’s not new on the scene—she’s been going since 1983, founding her own Canadian company in 1989—though her work has the freshness of youth. Again I am knocked for six by her breakneck signature style, dramatic concept—she’s totally hands on, design and lighting (shared with Emilie B-Beaulieu), too—and the twelve hyperactive dancers from Le Ballet de l’Opéra national du Rhin, who worked in collaboration with her company, Cie Cas Public.

Les Beaux dormants opens with videos of children telling fairy tales (in silent lip-readable French with subtitles), namely Sleeping Beauty, projected onto a grey, gritty wall, and of course they tell it in fits and starts. A great jumping off point for this jigsaw tale of awakening adolescence, risky rites of passage and scintillating bursts of explosive dance.

Engaging images of children flick and skip across the wall, which is in fact made up of seven columns, seven Rapunzel towers that move and dance, create doorways and mazes, in reconfiguration with the dancers. Elements of other fairy stories—princes, princesses, and castles in so many of them—seem to have sneaked into Les Beaux dormants or am I imagining it… Is the chap with the one pointe ballet shoe Cinderella—no, he’s Carabosse twirling like a dervish.

All is made clear by Narrator Thomas Hinterberger (charming and handsome—all the better to draw us in) in swift mime (much reprised to comic effect and lest we forget) and a few words in English and French or is that Franglais... Story shrunk into a mime minute—try condensing your life story into a few minutes—I once managed it in four. Les Beaux dormants with its building blocks of dance takes just under an hour. Any longer and one would fear for the dancers, for this is a furious sprint, not a leisurely marathon.

Music tick-tocks; clockwork dancers and metronomic measured time; life goes so quickly. Unisex black suits for all till the women discard their outer wear and reveal their Zizi Jeanmaire allure and men their rippling torsos. Growing up it’s called. Blackburn has her finger on the button. Suits acquire skirts, shirts come off under jackets, pas de deux, male duets, and solos, all inclusive.

Funky formation, classical feet (one tall male dancer in high heels), exaggerated technique and a forest of arms, swan arms… a pulsating, exciting, club scene and a spinning Rose Adagio—yes, one tries to spot Blackburn’s slippery references. Fast and furious—isn’t this how intense teenage life is lived—at least in their dreams and heads. But the technique and coordination never slips.

Invidious to single anyone out, so I won’t, though Valentin Thuet’s Carabosse is something else, and Ryo Shimizu catches my eye, but really they are all outstanding, all princes and princesses: Céline Nunigé (Aurora), Alain Trividic (Prince), Jean Philippe Rivière (Lilas) Monica Barbotte, Noemi Coin, Cauê Frias, Paloma Lassere, Mikhael Kinley-Safronoff, Oliver Oguma, and Marwik Schmitt.

Wonderment and respect… they are inspirational. These athletic Sleeping Beauties are worth very penny and some. A family ballet it is called, but I reckon all ages will get something different from it, innocent and not. Fabulous in every sense, Les Beaux dormants is a thrilling jolt of pure adrenaline…

A distinctive neo-classical and contemporary melange performed by dancers on speed without losing any of the precision of Blackburn’s dynamic choreography.

Sleeping Beauty (playing in the main house) has an audacious companion in the Linbury studio and Tchaikovsky a modern minimalist treatment remix from Martin Tétreault. The quintessence of Sleeping Beauty transposed to the postmodernist ironic age.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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