It’s a great time for Petipa here in the UK, as last week’s crop of ballets shows: The Royal Ballet’s Don Quixote was broadcast to cinemas, English National Ballet’s brand new Le Corsaire premiered at Milton Keynes (stay tuned for our review soon), while Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of 19th century balletic blockbuster, The Sleeping Beauty, made a welcome return to London at Sadler’s Wells.
Touring productions such as this are supposed to have a long shelf life, so it is natural that some will age better than others. It’s incredible to realise that this Beauty by Sir Peter Wright is now 29 years old, when it still looks as fresh and young as Princess Aurora herself: a golden palette harmoniously layers sets and costumes, choreographic passages fit well within its scope and tone (nothing feels passé) and the overall look is sumptuous rather than kitsch. Add the elegant manner of BRB’s dancers (including its enviable corps de ballet) and the result is a performance that is a fabulous showcase for the entire company.
On Friday evening, I was lucky to catch the long-standing partnership of Nao Sakuma (Aurora) and Chi Cao (Prince Florimund). Last time this production toured to London, Cao could not make it back in time from a visit to Japan, so I was glad to see him now on fine form (he knows how to land in a tight fifth like few!) and making the most of a role that can often seem devoid of character development. Aurora is a natural match for Nao Sakuma and she was as sweet and graceful as ever. Her pas de deux with Cao were lovely displays of classical lines, especially the Awakening Pas de Deux, a highlight of this production that helps to establish the relationship between Florimund and Aurora ahead of the “big wedding pas” in Act 3.
Among other highlights, Jenna Roberts was cast as Lilac Fairy, here a character role that is interestingly placed as a mirror image to Carabosse (a very stylish Samara Downs). Roberts was the most benevolent of fairies, and made use of her beautiful arms to convey the character. Natasha Oughtred, another very fine Aurora, appeared in Act 1 as Fairy of Honour and later as Princess Florine, and gave both roles the importance they deserve showcasing her wonderful technique. I should also praise the tremendous performance of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia directed by Koen Kessels, a reminder that everything in the ballet is present in Tchaikovsky’s score, and that Birmingham Royal Ballet have here a production that honours both the composer himself and his genius collaborator, Marius Petipa.
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty continues on tour until 2 November 2013. For tickets and more information visit the BRB website.