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The Sleeping Beauty

by on 2 February 2019

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The Sleeping Beauty

by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky , choreography by Marius Petipa

Moscow City Ballet at Richmond Theatre until 3rd February, then UK Tour continues until 23rd February

A review by Juliet Manners

Moscow City Ballet, founded in 1988 by choreographer Victor Smirnov-Golovanov, showcases the greatest works of the 19th and 20th century ballet heritage, whilst simultaneously using the strapline ‘Dancing for the New Generation’. Its remit was accomplished in this production, which was a true depiction of traditional Russian classical ballet, designed to appeal to all ages.

Although in today’s world of #MeToo, the idea of a woman receiving an unsolicited kiss is considered a violation, The Sleeping Beauty, based on the French La Belle au bois dormant by Charles Perrault, remains a well-known romantic fairy tale. If one can overlook this feature of the story, it provides more palatable food for thought in its expression of the fight between good and evil. With choreography from 1890 by ballet master and choreographer Marius Petipa (himself also French), the production features a variety of characters taken from Perrault’s other fairy stories, which in themselves were written as moral tales, albeit from another time and place. As Petipa enjoyed a career spanning over thirty years as Premier Maître de Ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres, what became one of the most popular ballets of the repertoire certainly serves to illustrate the most traditional and pure form of the classical style.

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The design of the whole piece was what I have to come to expect from the Russian touring companies; opulent backdrops rendered by painted gauzes, which for the majority of the production depicted a Royal Palace in all its splendour. Designers Natalia Povago and Evgeny Gurenko evoked the magnificence of a baroque-style European Court, whilst Elisaveta Dvorkina had free reign to give the costumes a truly sparkling touch, particularly notable in the traditional classical tutus and the robes worn by King Florestan and his Queen.

The Royal couple have given birth to a daughter and it is the celebration of her christening to which we are invited in the Prologue. Master of Ceremonies Catalabutte, danced and acted with great animation almost in the style of a circus performer or pantomime character, has invited all the fairies of the land to bestow their gifts upon baby Princess Aurora. The courtiers portrayed by the corps de ballet were suitably regal and deferent, although in contrast to Catalabutte, their acting was noticeably understated. The sound classical technique and exceptional grace of movement on which the company prides itself was evident, although I did feel that the grand ensembles were somewhat hampered by the constraints of the relatively small Richmond stage.

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A series of variations from the fairies of the Crystal Fountain, the Woodland Glade, the Enchanted Garden and the Golden Vine, as well as the Breadcrumb Fairy were all well danced, although I must admit to finding some of Petipa’s choreography less attractive in this section. The Lilac Fairy however, is a dream of a part for any ballerina. Unfortunately there was no cast list available for this evening’s performance, but the featured dancer had a lovely ‘line’ and particularly beautiful ports de bras.

Too late for Catalabutte, he realises that he has forgotten to invite the Fairy Carabosse. She appears with her entourage of bats in a swirling mist of black and places a curse on the baby, that she will prick her finger and die. The character artist who portrays Carabosse was a ‘baddie’ in the most traditional sense, who in typical style is succeeded by the heroic Lilac Fairy, who revokes the spell so that Aurora will not die but merely fall asleep for a hundred years, until she is woken by a Prince’s kiss.

Act I commences with celebrations for Princess Aurora’s sixteenth birthday in the grounds of the Palace. The suitably glossy tour programme with pictures of the principal dancers of the company allowed me to see that Aurora was portrayed by the Ballet’s main ‘face’, Lilia Orekhova, coquettish in her interactions with the four Princes who appear as her suitors. The notoriously difficult Rose Adagio, which requires Aurora to balance for a long time en attitude to be serenaded by each Prince, showcased her long lines and extension and was received with appreciation by the audience.

Carabosse suddenly appears again disguised as an old woman and presents Aurora with a spindle, on which she pricks her finger and collapses. Here once again we see the juxtaposition between evil and good as Carabosse reveals her true identity and the Lilac Fairy reappears to cast a spell of sleep on the whole Court.

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The dashing Prince Florimund of Act II was danced this evening by principal dancer , first seen out hunting with his courtiers. Here the backdrop of the forest was suggested by gauzes of brooding darkness which served to further illustrate the melancholic mood in which the Prince finds himself. A vision of the Princess Aurora asleep in the palace gives him a purpose, and the Prince is directed by the Lilac Fairy to find her. Tall and rangy, Orlov showcased athleticism in his solo dancing although once again the small size of the stage became apparent, and the extreme rake may have contributed to his one stumble, surely a terrible moment for any dancer. Notwithstanding, true professionalism reigned supreme. After awakening Princess Aurora with a kiss, their pas de deux was stunning to watch.

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In the final Act we find ourselves in the Palace Ballroom where the Court is celebrating the wedding of Aurora and Florimund. The Grand polonaise dansée sees turns by characters such as the Bluebird, Puss in Boots and the White Cat and Red Riding Hood and Wolf who have come to pay their respects, all beautifully performed by members of the company, as well as some lovely variations by the Gold, Silver, Sapphire and Diamond Fairies. As the celebrations come to a close the Prince and Princess dance together in a final ‘happy ever after’.

Whilst the storyline has undeniably dated, this was an enjoyable evening in real fairy tale style.

Juliet Manners
February 2019

Photography by Nada Savic

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