Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Choreography: Marius Petipa, Peter Wright
Reviewer: Helen Tope
A ballet with an unrivalled pedigree, Sleeping Beauty is the classic everyone knows. The challenge, when taking on this production, is how to stop a classic turning into a cliché.
The story of Princess Aurora, put to sleep by a witch’s curse, has plenty of scope for darkness beneath the glamour. How far a ballet chooses to delve into that darkness, colours the entire production. With such high stakes, Sleeping Beauty is less tried-and-tested, and more a game of chance. When the balance between darkness and light is struck, it’s simply magic.
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production begins with all the classic hallmarks in place. We meet baby Aurora at her christening. No expense is spared, as she is at the centre of lavish celebrations. Everyone is invited, except one. The Fairy Carabosse is overlooked, and she does not take kindly to the slight.
She gatecrashes the ceremony (in style) and curses the child. If Aurora pricks her finger, she will die. An invited guest, The Lilac Fairy, intervenes and softens the spell. Instead, Aurora will fall into a deep sleep, and only a kiss will wake her.
The most notable moment of the night was when Miki Mizutani (as Aurora) took a tumble, mid-solo. I mention this not to find fault, but to point out that ballet – good ballet – lives on the edge of perfection. A fall never quite spells disaster; the dancer gets up, and the music starts again. If you needed a reminder of the toughness and resilience needed for ballet, Mizutani’s recovery did exactly that. She may have faltered, but she finished strong.
The moment, though accidental, neatly sums up the spirit of the ballet itself. For all the high-gloss visuals – the ballet ends with glitter raining from the sky – Sleeping Beauty works best in its moments of humility. The bold, angular lines threaded through the choreography give the production a joie de vivre that keeps it from feeling staid. We spy glimpses of the human beneath the superhuman: fairytales are well and good, but without a point of contrast, it’s all too predictable.
The character work is particularly good, with Carabosse (Samara Downs) making the most of the Marius Petipa / Peter Wright choreography. Snarling at the golden elite, she tempers the grandiose setting. Not all fortune favours us – Carabosse is not the bringer of doom, but the cipher of a world beyond the palace gates.
The rich opulence of Aurora’s world is wonderfully observed. Decked out in a sophisticated palette of gold and bronze, the set and costume design mesh together beautifully. The costumes themselves are so gorgeous they nearly upstage the dancers who wear them. It is the period details – sack dresses and tailored riding gear – that lift this ballet to the next level.
But what makes the production shine is the intelligent blend of fantasy and realism. Classical ballet can be frothy and fun, but these stories endure because they have something else to tell us. Aurora’s upbringing is a somnambulist state: a life without sharp points is no life at all. Living on the edge with a little danger, makes everything taste sweeter. BRB’s Sleeping Beauty may look fragile, but go beyond the dazzle, and she’s true grit.
Runs until Saturday 24 March 2018 | Image: Contributed