Dance companies have been bringing the much loved story of Sleeping Beauty to life for years. Now it’s the turn of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, who provide a performance that despite being visually stunning, is frequently unconvincing.
The classic tale tells of a young Princess, Aurora (Nao Sakuma), who, on her christening, is cursed by the evil fairy, Carabosse (Marion Tait). Under the spell, Aurora should, one day, prick her finger on a spindle and die. However, with the help of the Lilac fairy (Andrea Tredinnick), her fate is bettered, so that she will instead fall to sleep for 100 years, only to be woken by her true love’s kiss.
From beginning to end, the set, lighting and costume provide visual perfection for David Bintley’s ballet. Philip Prowse and Mark Jonathan capture the nineteenth century in all its essence. So much so that the final act's mise-en scene is enough, alone to gain a round of applause from the audience.
Sadly though, the prologue provides less of a treat. It is almost as if all the pieces are there, yet they haven’t been fitted together properly. Tchaicovsky’s score is, of course, magical, but there are moments when the correlation between music and dance just does not work.
The dancers are beautiful and well trained, but the numerous solos mean that it often feels more like a scholarship competition than it does a performance of unison. Conventional gestures fulfil their need by telling a narrative, yet they are overused, and the ensemble undoubtedly has posture, but they spend more time decorating the stage, than they do dancing on it.
In Act Two, we meet Prince Florimund (Iain Mackay), and the performance begins to become more convincing. Maybe it’s because Mackay seems to believe his part, as does Sakuma when she is dancing with him. Whatever it is, something definitely clicks into place. The pair dance wonderfully together, however, I almost wish that Petipa and Wright had choreographed the routine so that the lovers do not physically touch until the kiss. The playfulness of their movements away from one another makes the fact Aurora is a vision more believable and would make the fairytale ending even more striking.
Despite the criticism, the wedding finale is spectacular and had it been this standard throughout, it would have been worthy of five stars. Sonia Aguilar, Robert Gravenor, Momoko Hirata and Joseph Caley provide stand-out pas-de-deux’s and the company, as a whole, have much more energy and charisma.
It is just unfortunate that this beauty of a finale was sleeping for a little too long.