The Sleeping Beauty

Score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, choreography by Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov and Peter Wright
Birmingham Royal Ballet
The Lowry, Salford

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Momoko Hirata as Princess Aurora and Max Maslen as Prince Florimund Credit: Tristram Kenton
Gabriel Anderson as Fairy Carabosse Credit: Tristram Kenton
The Birmingham Royal Ballet Company Credit: Tristram Kenton
Momoko Hirata as Princess Aurora Credit: Tristram Kenton
Momoko Hirata as Princess Aurora, Tori Forsyth-Hecken as The Lilac Fairy, and Max Maslen as Prince Florimund, Credit: Tristram Kenton
Gabriel Anderson as Fairy Carabosse Credit: Tristram Kenton

‘’You should have been there!’’ is often used to persuade audiences they missed an event which had to be experienced to appreciate its significance. With their revival of The Sleeping Beauty, Birmingham Royal Ballet set out to give audiences the opportunity to experience the historical period when ballet was a lush display of technical expertise and production values were sky-high.

Authenticity is the priority in the production, present-day effects such as screens and mechanical stage movements are absent. In act two, a line of dancers proceeding tiptoe across the stage in a perfect straight line makes modern audiences assume they must be on a moving walkway but no, it is an exercise in disciplined technique.

The approach does not result in a sparse production, as is apparent when the curtain rises on a display of shameless opulence. Philip Prowse’s designs suggest not simply wealth but scale. The set is so awe-inspiringly massive, the dancers are obliged to make grand gestures to have any impact.

The costumes in the opening scene are not only ravishingly rich, they are completely impractical with trains and capes so long as to make dancing impossible. The prologue becomes, therefore, a showcase for the ensemble, in slightly more practical costumes, working in unison, often concluding frozen in striking tableau. This is particularly powerful with the darkly clad Attendants of the villain who, when drawn together in tableau, form a core of menacing darkness against the bright background.

One drawback of authenticity is that the ballet originates from a period when mime was extensively employed as a storytelling technique. For a modern audience, accustomed to more subtle methods, the exaggerated arm and hand movements can seem unnecessarily baroque and certainly dated.

The Fairy Carabosse (Daria Stanciulescu) enters ostentatiously, carried in an ornate sedan chair, in the manner of a Disney villain. This seems like payback as Tchaikovsky’s score, blending melodrama and lively romanticism, has inspired any number of modern film soundtracks—Disney’s "Once Upon a Dream" borrows the melody from "The Garland Waltz" in act one.

If the prologue highlights the ensemble, act one concentrates on the principal dancers; specifically, Momoko Hirata as Princess Aurora. Hirata dominates the ballet never more so than in the famous "Rose Adagio" in which Aurora assesses four suitors while en pointe for an excruciatingly long time.

The thin plot is essentially wrapped up by the end of act two, so the third act becomes an extended encore. It is a stunning celebration of dancing expertise as one dancer after another steps into the spotlight. There are even cheeky cameos as characters from other fairy tales, Puss in Boots and Little Red Riding Hood, make appearances.

Staging the show in a manner appropriate for the heyday of classical ballet does not place any constraints upon the production but rather makes The Sleeping Beauty a swaggering blast from the past.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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