The English National Ballet’s production of Sleeping Beauty, which plays this week at the London Coliseum, is a treat to behold. Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography is based on the original choreography by Marius Petipa from 1890. Peter Farmer’s set is beautiful, Nicholas Georgiadis’s costumes are stunning in their subtle hues and Tchaikovsky’s score supports the story perfectly (the resident orchestra, the English National Ballet Philharmonic, is conducted superbly by Gavin Sutherland). But it’s the dancers of the company who make this Beauty so memorable.
On Tuesday night we did not see Alina Cojocaru dance the lead role (who danced on press night), but Maria Alexandrova, the principal from the Bolshoi Ballet who had not performed in London before. She was spellbinding. You could not take your eyes off her, she shows much elegance and beauty as Princess Aurora from the moment she appears aged sixteen to her solo variations in the final Act. I have no doubt that the cast is equally impressive on any night, but I am personally delighted that we got to see Alexandrova in this role.
The Sleeping Beauty is an interesting ballet as it draws on a fairytale, but stretches to three hours, and there is just a bit of humour which comes from the knitting women, and the comical appearances of Red Hiding Hood (Jennie Harrington) and the Wolf (Shevelle Dynott). Otherwise the classical tale centres on Princess Aurora, who is cursed at her christening celebration by the evil fairy Carabosse (Stina Quagebeur), who resembles an Elizabethan queen and is suitably wicked. The Lilac Fairy (played attractively by Alison McWhinney) manages to alter the curse so that Aurora will not die on her sixteenth birthday, but fall into a 100-year deep sleep until the spell is lifted by a kiss from a Prince. Prince Desire (Joseph Caley) performs his part well but I did not feel a great chemistry between the two principals. Rather, Alexandrova lights up the stage when she is dancing solo.
There are some wonderful pas de deux, as well as some famous solo dances, yet in some ways my favourite moments come when the whole company dances together: the fairies in their tutus of different shades of colours perform with great precision and elegance, their skirts moving and flowing with every movement of every limb. Added to the gorgeous sets and Neil Austin’s lighting, the overall effect is impressive.
As a child I was taken to see The Nutcracker almost annually, but I have not been to see classical ballet in many years. It is an eye-opener, watching as an adult, as you come closer to understanding how immensely challenging it is to dance this particular art form. I took my daughter as my guest, who is about to turn thirteen and who herself takes contemporary dance classes at the Trinity Laban dance school. She had not knowingly been to a proper ballet before (although I have taken her to children’s shows before). Her first response was, they are so upright! they don’t get down onto the floor like you do at Laban. She did very well for her first time, really marvelling at how different the ballet experience is to anything else she has seen. When I mentioned The Nutcracker, she wondered if we might go together at Christmas. In my eyes, this proves success indeed for Tamara Rojo’s English National Ballet and this stunning Beauty.
hattydaze rating: ****/*****
With thanks to the London Box Office for the press tickets. The Sleeping Beauty is at the London Coliseum until this Saturday 16th June 2018. For more details, see the London Box Office website here.