BWW Review: National Ballet Delivers Grand Spectacle with THE SLEEPING BEAUTY
Never been to the ballet? THE SLEEPING BEAUTY's mix of glamour and splendour makes it the perfect first ballet experience.
Tchaikovsky's exquisite score meets Nureyev's exhilarating choreography in a sensational grand ballet experience. The National Ballet of Canada brings back their celebrated production of Tchaikovsky's THE SLEEPING BEAUTY, choreographed by the late Rudolf Nureyev. A dancer himself, Nureyev's creative stamp on the piece expands the already technically challenging choreography originally created by Marius Petipa - adding depth to the Prince's role with variations of amplified difficulty. Even the most ardent ballet critic is sure to be impressed by the extreme athleticism required to dance this production.
We all know the story - its fame was propelled by the 1959 Disney classic. A court assembles to celebrate the birth of their new princess, Aurora (Heather Ogden), leaving the bad fairy Carabosse (Alejandra Perez-Gomez) out of the celebrations. In anger, Carabosse places a curse on the princess, promising that on her 16th birthday she will prick her finger on a spindle and die. Intervening, the Lilac Fairy (Tanya Howard) counters the curse - Aurora will not die when she pricks her finger, but instead fall asleep for 100 years, only to be awakened by true love's kiss. Flash-forward 100 years later - a pensive prince (Guillaume Côté) is visited by the Lilac Fairy and taken to the sleeping princess. His kiss revives the princess (and the court). They all live happily ever after.
This production, with set and costumes designed by Nicholas Georgiadis, is incredibly grand - so impressive that the audience actually clapped as the set was being revealed. His costumes are even more wonderful, with extraordinary, intricate detailing in each piece. (Take a close look at the court costumes at the end of the second act. They are amazing.) Paired with the extravagant staging, including a magical scene involving a boat over a lake of dry ice, the entire visual landscape is utterly sumptuous.
Musically, the National Ballet orchestra was in fine form. Maestro David Briskin took many of the tempos much slower than I'm used to hearing, but it gave the orchestra an opportunity to really swell with gorgeous crescendos. One example of slower than normal pacing in the music was in the difficult Rose Adagio. Perhaps it is a testament to Ogden's stability in the role, but Briskin seemed to carefully drag out the music, paying careful attention to Ogden as she grounded herself before each suitor, in order to align all of her beats with the music.
I don't know if it was just me, but the Rose Adagio scene is one crazy adrenaline rush, even for the audience. In Act I, the 16-year-old Aurora is introduced to four potential suitors, receiving a rose from each of them. The challenging technical aspects of the dance involve a series of promenades, testing the strength of the ballerina's balance on pointe (click here to watch Heather Ogden rehearsing the Rose Adagio in 2011). Ogden took her time throughout the sequence, carefully considering her balance before confidently shooting her arm into the air and gracefully reaching down to shake the next suitor's hand. Often the ballerina in this scene will quickly latch onto the hand of the next suitor - not Ogden.
As Prince Florimund, Côté makes his entrance in the second act. For the first few minutes, his demeanour seemed rather cocky - until he started dancing. What followed was a perfect, empathetic, sensitive portrayal of the prince. His variations were executed with heartfelt passion and featured remarkably clean lines. His leaps seemed to almost defy gravity, but he always maintains impeccable control of the scene. Ogden makes a lovely appearance in this act, her balance on pointe putting her up there with the very best. The corps de ballet was also particularly impressive - the dancers connected with the music and delivered clean, unified ensemble work.
Although Nureyev's stimulating choreography gives many dancers an opportunity to showcase their technical competencies, Francesco Gabriele Frola's cameo in the third act was notable. Frola was thrilling with his explosive jumps as Bluebird, giving quite a memorable debut performance.
THE SLEEPING BEAUTY has everything you expect from grand ballet - epic music, lavish sets and costumes, opportunities for dancers to show off, and demanding choreography for the principals. Nureyev's production elevates this grandness one step further by challenging his dancers with ambitious physical variations, creating an unforgettable ballet experience.
THE SLEEPING BEAUTY is presented by the National Ballet of Canada and runs through March 18, 2018 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit national.ballet.ca