February 27, 2014 5:59 pm

The Sleeping Beauty, Royal Opera House, London – review

The Prologue is ideal, though later acts are somewhat rushed
Yuhui Choe and Ryoichi Hirano in ‘The Sleeping Beauty’©Simon Tomkinson

Yuhui Choe and Ryoichi Hirano in ‘The Sleeping Beauty’

The Sleeping Beauty, ultimate masterpiece of 19th-century ballet, has for me no rival in any subsequent choreography for grace of construction. What happens? Really very little drama – but an ideal in shaping danced and musical action. Each act is worked like some marvel of Fabergé’s art, bejewelled form never losing sight of a larger scheme; Tchaikovsky makes miracles of melodic felicity; Petipa’s dance is of no less astonishing elegance. This is what an ideal staging might show us – some dream collaboration between Mariinsky style and what the old Petersburg régisseur Sergueyev gave to Ninette de Valois for her company in 1939, when he mounted the version which developed into this present production.

And none of the brutish musical cuts we find today, as on Wednesday when I saw the current Royal Ballet recension. None of the murky nonsense that is supposed to be the crucial (and ravishingly autumnal at the Mariinsky) hunting scene that marks the passing of a century (Louis XIV to Louis XV) and where peasants and aristos dance their various dances – some suppressed in this hurried, harried incident at Covent Garden – and certainly not played in pitch darkness. (What is the prey in this ludicrous chase? Badgers?)

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The point, implicit in score and original dance-scheme, is the passage of a hundred years, a vital link, by way of the dancing nymphs as well as courtiers, between the past and the drama’s future world. What we see at Covent Garden is well-intentioned and, in the Prologue, an ideal exposition of balletic engineering where every step, every entry, every gesture, every note, has purpose and grace – qualities that the later acts lose because of the need to hustle along the show, and a concomitant weakening of grandeur in means and style.

Yuhui Choe made a charming and very promising debut as Aurora, with Ryoichi Hirano a Prince of attractive nobility. I admired Francesca Hayward’s elegance in two solo roles, and Marcelino Sambé holds the promise of a dazzling Bluebird. The score sounded lacklustre. Recorded thunder to introduce Carabosse insults Tchaikovsky.



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