A good production, but for me not quite beautiful enough to be a great one
The Sleeping Beauty is one of the all-time great ballets for too many reasons to list. While the story is somewhat thin it still manages to captivate, while the music by Tchaikovsky is the very definition of magical. This production from The Royal Ballet is a good one, but somewhat of a disappointment, mainly because their versions of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker are classics and in some areas I found that the production fell short.
Where I feel the production is let down is in the sets and costumes. If I were to sum it up in one word, I'd say ugly, my reasoning for why I wrote "not quite beautiful enough" in my review summary. I greatly disliked the drab costumes for the court and also the distractingly over-frilled tutus, the overturned laundry-like costume for the Queen and the hats. As for the sets and backdrops, it was here where I missed the joyous colourful beauty of it all, they for my tastes just looked too stark and expressionistic. And I saw absolutely no point in the steps, they were bizarre and hindered some of the more effective moments of the ballet for me.
Most of the stage direction is very good actually, but there were a few touches that fell flat for me. My main one was Aurora's entrance, one of the most charming and buoyant entrances in all of ballet, ruined here completely by those blasted steps. Carabosse's entrance fares a little bit better, at least it was a good idea, the problem was with the shaking and floating dinner chairs it just looked silly onstage. For me Carabosse's disguise fell flat as well, far too obvious.
As for the dancers, most are fantastic. But the weakest of the cast was Leann Benjamin as Florine, partly because she looks too big physically for the role compared to the dainty, elegant Florines I usually see. The Blue Bird Pas De Deux is undermined by some occasional balance issues and that her partner clearly had trouble lifting her. I would have liked a little more involvement and telling the story on Zoltan Solymosi's part, and he does make the thanklessness of the Prince's role all too obvious with too much of an emphasis of being just a partner to his Aurora rather than a united partnership. The good news though is that he actually does this well, the dancing is sincere and graceful and there is some nobility there too.
However, there are a number of good things. The dancing is impeccable with gorgeous lines and there is a strong sense of storytelling too. The choreography likewise, it is difficult stuff especially the famous Rose Adagio but made easy by the dancers, while the mime is crystal clear but never overdone. You cannot go wrong with the Corps-De-Ballet either, they dance with character and choreographically they do not put a noticeable foot wrong. The fairytale and fairy variations are done beautifully, with the Bluebird Pas De Deux being the only real disappointment. The video directing serves the production well, it is clear and unobtrusive while the sound is great.
Tchaikovsky's score is justifiably one of the greats, with a lot of recognisable moments, notably if you ever saw Disney's Sleeping Beauty as a child, the ballet music features heavily there to wonderful effect. It is performed here with lots of power, intent, style and pathos by a beautifully blended and well-rehearsed orchestra. The Rose Adagio and Apotheosis were especially well done. While the conducting shows evidence of strong musicality with a lot of attention to textural balance and fluid phrasing, a very commanding sense of leadership overall.
And to top things off, the performances. Viviana Durante is the high point for me. Tiny in stature(the height difference between her and Solymosi was rather disconcerting), but graceful, poised and flexible, she really is a superb Aurora. She showed no signs of being taxed by the Rose Adagio, by default the ballet's most challenging moment from a choreographic point of view. Another standout was the Carabosse of Anthony Dowell. From his very first moment, Dowell created an interpretation that was not only authoritative but was also deliciously and almost scarily evil. Benazir Hussein dances The Lilac Fairy with a wholly competent amount of skill, counterpointing Dowell perfectly, and she was to me the most beautiful person onstage.
Overall, a good production but falls short of being great. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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