Some necessary facts: the Royal Ballet has revived its staging of The Sleeping Beauty and has (happily) restored many of the costumes that Oliver Messel designed in 1946 for the parent text of this version. That, on Friday, I left the theatre in a state of euphoria I owe not to the lacklustre manner of the company, but to the performances of Sarah Lamb as Aurora and Steven McRae as Florimund.
Lamb’s gifts, of beautiful physique, of unforced technical authority, are ideally focused in her Aurora. She has the easy grace, the purity, the role demands. Like those great Petersburg Auroras, Irina Kolpakova and Zhanna Ayupova, she does not force her effects or apply the factitious glamour of bravura tricks to show choreography distorted by a ballerina’s ego. The role lives in the exactitude, the sweet clarity of her dancing, which justifies her performance, the role, the score itself.
McRae’s reading is unparalleled in my long experience of danseurs making what they can of Florimund. Not since 1961, when Oleg Sokolov and Yuri Solovyov soared in noblest style through the Kirov Ballet’s staging, have I seen a male dancer claim the role with such prodigious skill. McRae gives the character life, radiant authority, by the vivid outlines of his physical presence: in this, as I have noted before, he reminds me of that prince of danseurs, Anton Dolin.
But McRae also has a technical mastery that defies superlatives. His variation in Beauty’s third act dazzled not just by its stunning resource (breathtaking speed, its unfailing clarity, its teacher’s pet exactness in such matters as fifth positions of the feet on landing from a jump) but also by an almost spiritual force. We saw a brilliantly talented young man assert the power of dance to define the grandest possibilities of the human frame. Here is an artist boasting a transcendent and Lisztian gift that transforms our understanding of performance.
One snarl: the cropping of the hunting scene dances and playing them in deepest gloom are inexcusable. Stravinsky said: a crime against the spirit of a work begins with a crime against the letter.