The North West is spoilt for choice with two recent contrasting productions of Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty. Matthew Bourne’s vampiric /gothic revision is followed by a more classic/ traditional version from The English National Ballet (ENB).
Dark fairy Carabosse (James Streeter) takes umbrage at being excluded from celebrations and curses Princess Aurora (artistic director Tamara Rojo) to die. An intervention from the Lilac Fairy (Daria Klimentova) mitigates the curse to eternal sleep unless the princess is wakened by true love’s kiss.
The production from the ENB revels in taking a classic approach going so far as to draw in elements from other traditions. Characters from other fairy tales – Puss in Boots and Red Riding Hood – make cameo appearances. The female villain is played, in the panto tradition, by a man.
The latter is an inspired development. James Streeter’s interpretation and masculine stature compared to Daria Klimentova’s delicate Lilac Fairy brings out the sense of isolation felt by Carabosse that explains her actions and attracts sympathy.
Choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan this is a restrained but powerful production best represented by the performance of the central character. Tamara Roja enters humbly at the rear of the stage and then proceeds to gently dominate it for pretty much the whole of act two with rare technical ability. An extended sequence of her greeting suitors while motionless on one leg and tiptoe is hard to forget. The choreography is so subtle that aspects almost slip by unnoticed – the wide range of dance routines that open act one are carefully designed for the individual dancer and repeat moves are avoided.
The restraint and dignity of the lead dancer is reflected in the costumes by Nicholas Georgiadis. Although lush they are not gaudy but rather gentle with contrasting pastel tones.
Respect for tradition is all very but at times you wish the ENB had been willing to take a few chances. MacMillan based his choreography on the original by Marius Petipa, which relied on significant use of mime to communicate the story. The replication of this technique might be historically correct but looks like an affectation and does not make best use of the skill of the company.