Another season, another opportunity to chase Mr Ratmansky’s witty ballets around the globe. But this time, I initially hesitated: would a new production of warhorse The Sleeping Beauty be worth the trip? After all, my last three Ratmansky-related trips had involved new pieces: the opulent dramedy of The Golden Cockerel, the sublime Shosty Trilogy and the European premiere of his “bonkers ballet” Namouna. All of which had been completely worth travelling for.
Fact: we don’t see enough of Ratmansky’s genius in the UK (Namouna is so perfect for ENB, while Russian Seasons could prove a great fit for The Royal Ballet. And how about Psyche for BRB?), and with that in mind, I decided to book the trip, even though Beauty didn’t seem on paper as exciting as the works above. I needn’t have worried, though. This new Ratmansky staging is full of interesting elements which reconnect us with Petipa & Tchaikovsky, shedding new light on a big classic. It’s a production that fleshes out the power of classicism, and shows us how musicality can be more compelling to watch than pure feats of balletic bravura, as exemplified by Gillian Murphy’s Aurora, never flashy but secure and super stylish. Any technical fireworks were reserved for the turbo-charged fishdives during the wedding pas de deux in Act 3, and, of course for Daniil Simkin’s dream cast Bluebird (wonderful alongside Cassandra Trenary‘s Florine).
If you have followed the reviews since the production’s premiere in California, then you already know this means that we get no crazy 6′o clock extensions, no big jumps for Aurora or her prince, nor any complex, difficult lifts (thus no awkward partnering, thank goodness!). Instead, the choreography features intricate small and beaten steps, often executed at demi-pointe and at impressive speed. This gives a sense of cohesion and fluidity to the production, something you notice in particular during the fairies variations (where unity of style was very much on display), in Aurora’s entrance and variation (deliciously musical, with none of those slow tempo allowances so that ballerinas can prepare pirouettes and développés), as well as during the sublimely romantic Vision scene, where leads Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes were as alluring as a pair of movie stars from the Golden Age of MGM.
As for the fairy tale characters, they are wonderfully individual (a Ratmansky trademark and something we always expect from him, even in abstract pieces!), with highlights in the serene Lilac Fairy of Stella Abrera (the fairy equivalent of Pallas Athena), the wonderful Carabosse of Craig Salstein (a lovechild of Madge the Witch with the Kostcheï?), who is eventually forgiven and invited to the wedding celebrations, plus an adorably geeky, bespectacled Catalabutte (Alexei Agoudine).
I don’t think Ratmansky’s Beauty will please everyone, however. We’re living in a dance age where athleticism has become the norm, where dancers’s bodies get pushed to flashy extremes, just like CGI in the movies. So unless you are fond of stepping back into the old charm, the glamour and mannerisms of, say, Hollywood movies in the forties, there’s a chance this might not be your cup of tea. Even the Ballets Russes-inspired designs by Richard Hudson remind us that we’re in vintage ballet land, with not a tutu in sight. The costumes and the ensembles are simply opulent, with a lush garland dance (think a stage filled by swathes of garlands) that made me gasp and think the Mariinsky and Royal Ballet productions a bit humble by comparison. Eternal thanks to Mr. Ratmansky for making us appreciate this Petipa classic under a new light, and for always making our balletic trips so inspiring.
Alexei Ratmansky’s new production of The Sleeping Beauty is also being staged at La Scala, autumn 2015. Bolshoi principals Svetlana Zakharova and David Hallberg are currently billed as first cast.