February 20, 2013
Fairy tales offer us the tantalizing possibility of remaking the world in the image of desire, in tapping into a childlike wish for magic and a belief in impossibility. They also often give access to more adult themes of utopianism, threat and sadness – think of Hansel and Gretel and the Pied Piper. In the case of a production of The Sleeping Beauty, 122 years old in its ballet form and still going strong in this ENB Kenneth Macmillan incarnation, I think the challenge to the company lies in allowing the audience to retain a child’s innocence and joy in the narrative whilst not permitting the characters to become one-dimensional or naive.
The ballet opens in the grounds of the palace where King Florentine and his Queen are celebrating the christening of their daughter Princess Aurora. Cue the wicked fairy Carabosse who, stamping at being missed off the guest list, here sweeps onto the stage in a gothic carriage, complete with a band of cut-throats. It would have been easy to stray into pantomime villain territory but he pitches the role just this side of cross-dressing caricature, condemning Aurora to prick her finger on her 16th birthday and die. The Lilac Fairy is happily on hand to mitigate the curse: Aurora and the court will sleep for 100 years with possible remission to be had in the form of a kiss by the princess’s true love.
The very full Tuesday night house lapped up the elaborate sets – the thickening brambly glade effects, the prince sailing away in a silver barque – and the innovative steps of the corps de ballet in the pastoral scene. The hunting scene’s a highlight, too, with its unusual element of steps from Scottish dances. Erina Takahashi from Japan and the Cuban Ariel Vargas were perfectly matched as Prince and Princess.
The ballet music, while not quite in my view Tchaikovsky at his very best – no exotic Nutcracker Kingdom of Sweets’ Coffee dance theme here, no wildly romantic Grand Pas de Deux, no Swan Lake-like swooning big tune – was here played by the large ENB house orchestra with delicacy and restraint, never overpowering the dancers.
A great evening from a world-class company. Catch it while you can!
PS. The Sleeping Beauty, an original story from 1697 as the euphonious La Belle au Bois Dormant was written by the Frenchman Charles Perrault. It was pilfered by the Grimm Brothers, renamed in their version Briar Rose, and the rest is history. Incidentally, lovers of the curious may like to know that Perrault was consulted by Louis XIV about the design of the gardens at the Palais de Versailles and advised his patron to include thirty-nine fountains each representing one of the fables of Aesop in the maze there.