The Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty Review: Bluebird and Florine fly higher than Aurora herself

Alexander Campbell and Francesca Hayward are the true stars of the final act

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There is no greater ballet than The Sleeping Beauty to put a company’s classical strength to the test.

Marius Petipa’s original masterpiece had its premiere in 1890 and the production was formerly introduced into the repertoire of the Royal Ballet as we know it in 1946.  The current production is a 2006 revival of this original work – and it couldn’t be any more obvious.

Here the dated sets create a sense of separation between both the setting, the dancers and the audience – they are dull and 2 dimensional.  The costumes were always just a touch too dramatic (and special mention needs to go out to the costuming of the King, who looked as though he had been plucked straight from some cartoon-gone-wrong).

And would it be too much to ask for smooth playing of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece? Apparently so.  The orchestra – kudos to them for playing what they did – seemed always to be playing wrongly – either too softly when the opposite was required or too quickly when the dancer needed more time – the list goes on.

Alas, sets, costumes and music aside – at least there were the dancers themselves to save the day.

In the Prologue, we are treated to a dazzling array of fairies – Francesca Hayward as the Song Bird Fairy and Yasmine Naghdi’s Fairy of the Woodland Glade make quick bourrées look easier than spreading butter on hot toast – newcomers to the roles Anna Rose O’Sullivan and Chisato Katsura, performed admirably in their débuts, but could take a few tricks from Hayward and Naghdi’s bags.

I find it hard to imagine a more powerful Lilac Fairy than Claire Calvert’s, who displayed power in every sissone and finesse in each arabesque.  As though her triple pirouette during the general rehearsal earlier that day wasn’t enough, she awed with a quadruple on opening night.

Kristen McNalley’s evil Carabosse is a saving grace amid music that is played a touch too light for her character

Then in Act I, we finally meet Aurora, portrayed by Sarah Lamb on opening night.  Lamb’s Aurora offered nothing more than a handful of gorgeous moments.  Her footwork in the entrance variation was muddled, though she executed the Rose Adagio admirably, albeit not perfectly, and with not nearly as much warmth as Akane Takada had just hours before (at the general rehearsal).

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Sarah Lamb and Thiago Soares as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince in the Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker. Photo: Alastair Muir (2011)

Her Prince, Vadim Muntagirov, is the superior between them – no step he performs here is anything less than breathtaking, although his partnering of Lamb feels a little safer than it should be.

In truth, the true stars of the final act may be wedding guests Princess Florine and the Bluebird, portrayed by Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell respectively.  They performed with impeccable lyricism and expert knowledge of their roles – Hayward never ceasing emphasis on the fact that Campbell was teaching her to fly.

Leticia Stock and Paul Kay as the White Cat and Puss in Boots drew laughter from the crowd.

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Vadim Muntagirov as Lensky in Onegin. Photo: Alastair Muir (2015)

While it’s sets may not compare to the Bolshoi’s nor its costumes, the production as a whole is worth watching – it is truly a display of the company’s classical ability.

The Sleeping Beauty remains in rep until 14 March, 2017.  For tickets and further details visit the website of the Royal Opera House.

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Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell as Clara and Hans-Peter. Photo: Alastair Muir (2015)

[Featured image: Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov in The Sleeping Beauty, The Royal Ballet (c) 2016 ROH. Photo by Bill Cooper]

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