The Brexit parallel was inescapable: a princess, warned off from the dangers of sharp objects, nevertheless contrives to prick her finger with a spindle and falls down in a 100 year swoon. Her gleaming palace becomes swamped by decay and thorny forest, gradually to be forgotten by the bustling world beyond. But what Prince Florimund is out there on a white charger, sword sharpened to cut though the brambles and rouse this moribund land from its self-inflicted folly?
It was more agreeable by far in Aylesbury on Friday night to rake the debris of the disaster into the thicket fringes, and instead seek solace in Moscow City Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty. And how easy on the eye and ear was that immersion, given the riot of colour up there on stage, and the brisk, workmanlike interpretation down in the pit by the City Ballet Orchestra of Tchaikovsky's score. We opened to a huge set, all symbolic Birth of Venus pillars and heavy purple drapes for the christening of Princess Aurora. Designer Natalia Povago had chosen an authentic Louis XIV-era look, in keeping with Charles Perrault's setting down of La Belle au Bois Dormant [Beauty in the sleeping wood] from 1697.
The second major set was the stylised exterior of a French palace, complete with bassin flanked by caryatid, nymph and dolphin statuary; both scale and detail were extraordinary. Two young ballet fans sat in front of me gasped audibly at the spectacle. The sets were complemented to stunning effect by Elisaveta Dvorkina's costumes. I've seen touring Russian companies' ballets where the outfits have been dowdy. Here, the colours ranged the spectrum from acid yellow to mustard, from aquamarine to sapphire, russet to blood orange, deepest maroon to shiniest sugar pink – the variety was endless, the impression under the lights gorgeous.
Marius Petipa's choreography had the corps de ballet, usually in the guise of fairies, dancing together but with head and body movements cleverly working in opposition. The pairing of Bluebird and Blue Princess had them combining effectively with arabesques, and steps en arrière, and the compact Lilac Fairy – the colour in Russia symbolizes wisdom – showed perfect pointe work. As for the two lead dancers, the tall Lilia Orekhova's Princess Aurora pirouetted beguilingly and endlessly, with high leg lifts of perfect balance, while Dmitry Lazovik's Florimund excelled with circular lifts and expansive leaps.
The Sleeping Beauty is perhaps the ugly duckling of Tchaikovsky’s three ballets, having neither Swan Lake's dramatic thrust nor The Nutcracker's sheer variety of texture, albeit at times a saccharine one. It's often oddly symphonic for the genre; ironic, really, since the composer's symphonies are sometimes criticised as being too balletic. There were smooth violin and cello solos for Aurora's Variation and the Pas d'Action respectively, and then for the sealing Pas de Deux before the final Apotheosis, horns and trumpets struck up in fine unison. The playing came up fresh; never a hint of over-familiarity with a score these touring musicians must know almost by heart.
A minor cavil might be that we hurtled on from the appearance of Prince to the sealing of the knot with almost indecent speed. I also noted the odd lacuna in the dovetailing of one dance/musical number with the next. But this was a show all but impossible to fault; bursting with careful design and pride in the classical tradition. An expensive production where the money spent was all up there on stage before us. The final curtain call was prolonged, the audience rightly refusing to let the performers go.