Review: THE SLEEPING BEAUTY, Sadler's Wells

A worthwhile Beauty

By: Apr. 25, 2024
Review: THE SLEEPING BEAUTY, Sadler's Wells
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Review: THE SLEEPING BEAUTY, Sadler's Wells Is there anything similar to The Sleeping Beauty overture? With Tchaikovsky filling the theatre with full-blown fairy tale drama - it's quite the opener.

And then what follows...? Three hours/four acts of classical ballet as we know it. All originally choreographed by the father of 19th century ballet, Marius Petipa. 

Since the 1889 premiere, there's been an ongoingly endless list of productions being staged globally, with one being the current Birmingham Royal Ballet version created by its former artistic director Sir Peter Wright, originally created for Dutch National Ballet in 1981. BRB are presenting Wright’s version at Sadler’s Wells for five performances.

Beauty is known as a benchmark in the industry, especially for the lead couple; Princess Aurora and Prince Florimund. When you've been cast in/performed these parts, it's public confirmation that the individuals have reached the pinnacle of the classical ballet pyramid.

The roles are far from easy though, demanding crystalline technical skill, and one hopes all packaged within a narrative, nuanced, rounded performance.

Many people hold onto The Beauty they grew up with, guilty as charged, and that's the Anthony Dowell/Maria Bjørnson, 1994 Royal Ballet production for me, with Wright being from a similar pedigree to Dowell of course. 

Wright's production credits three choreographers; himself, Petipa and Lev Ivanov, and there's definitely some different takes, but nothing earth-shattering - in either direction.

Review: THE SLEEPING BEAUTY, Sadler's Wells
Daria Stanciulescu as Fairy Carabosse 
Photo Credit:Tristram Kenton

The Sleeping Beauty is a fairy tale, so the story should unfold with ease, which is absolutely the case here. But as a genre, it can all too soon feel painfully cringey if not handled with care. I'd argue that Wright, and consequently BRB are doing the work more than justice, to the point that it took me somewhat by surprise as The Sleeping Beauty isn't an easy watch. The duration and categorisation being a commitment, but when danced with conviction and joie de vivre the ballet absolutely comes alive.

The designs by Philip Prowse take a moment to find their feet. The Prologue palette feels too flat, and doesn't lend well to identifying who's who. But as the ballet progresses the colours begin to flourish, and the regal minimalism of the set continues to draw admiration.

Classical ballet doesn't deny the presence of the fourth wall, yet the BRB dancers seem to invite you into the story rather than perform it down your throat. The dancing throughout is well executed and energised, helped no end by conductor Philip Ellis' enlivened tempi and clear melody from The Royal Ballet Sinfonia. 

Important character roles act as credibility axes for the ballet and Eilis Small as The Lilac Fairy is the epitome of pastel grace, whilst her nemesis The Fairy Carabosse, is perfectly pitched by Daria Stanciulescu; the ideal mix of maleficence and sass.

Lachlan Monaghan as Prince Florimund is more than acceptable, showing clean, worthwhile dancing, though his execution of the role isn't (currently) one for the ages.

Review: THE SLEEPING BEAUTY, Sadler's Wells
Yu Kurihara as Princess Aurora and Lachlan Monaghan as Prince Florimund
Photo Credit: Tristram Kenton

Whereas Yu Kurihara as Princess Aurora feels like a new proposition. Her Act 1 characterisation reads genuinely 16 years old: naive, fun and even verging on coquettish when she has a moment of not dancing. Act 2 needs a little work, as she isn't quite emoting the yearning drama of the cello yet, but she reestablishes herself in Act 3 with maturity and sophistication.

Her dancing throughout is absolutely stunning: beautiful line, easy coordination, musical, precise, expressive and clearly connected to her partner. She covers space well, though her Act 1 could still afford more bravery with each posé taken - it’s your Kingdom I say, own it.

In the end, is current director Carlos Acosta making the right decision by scheduling The Sleeping Beauty for the company? I think yes. It's a very handsome touring production, and in extremely safe hands with the current roster of dancers and artistic staff. And Tchaikovsky's extraordinary score of course…where would ballet be without Pyotr Ilyich?!

Classical, fairy tale ballet isn't a surefire hit in 2024 - for obvious reasons - but when done well it can still transport even the most jaded of Londoners into moments of narrative escapism. However, the Puss-in-Boots/White Cat number is still a more nails on a blackboard moment than Aww. Or perhaps that's just jaded old me. Meow.

The Sleeping Beauty runs at Sadler's Wells until April 27

Photo Credits: Tristram Kenton

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.


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