Kenneth MacMillan revered The Sleeping Beauty. In it he made his first appearance on stage at Covent Garden in 1946. He loved its steps and perfect dramatic structure, and in the late 1960s, as director of the ballet at the Berlin Deutsche Oper, he produced an opulent staging so that his company might learn from its glories. (He sent me a four-page letter in which he expressed his love for this masterpiece and his belief in its disciplines, its miraculous logic.)
This respect remained at the heart of his creativity, and we may consider Mayerling or Manon as Beauty’s progeny. All of which serves to introduce English National Ballet’s staging of Beauty as MacMillan produced it for American Ballet Theatre and as Nicholas Georgiadis opulently clothed it and as Peter Farmer has sensitively set it. And as English National Ballet eagerly danced it on Wednesday night when it entered their Coliseum repertory. The company plays it with enthusiasm, the Georgiadis clothes are ravishingly grand and understand the historical span of the action, from Louis XIV to Louis XV, and this presentation is honourable, eloquent.
And it does not cheat on incidents both vital and beautiful: the crucial hunting scene that opens Act II with its court dances and farandole is admirably done, very elegant in its black costumes that intriguingly suggest a court in mourning. Everywhere the ideal proportions of Petipa’s structure (Beauty is perfectly organised theatrical engineering) are respected. This ENB version, for all its need to cut a few artistic corners with excisions to the score, is handsome.
On Wednesday night Tamara Rojo was a serene Aurora – though I am puzzled by exaggerated balances and pirouettes that have little to do with the role but much to do with the dancer – and Vadim Muntagirov was a prince to treasure, dance and manner grandly assured, generous, noble. I offer my best compliments to James Streeter as Carabosse, a brilliant and memorable reading of the evil fairy as Mussolini in tremendous drag, a red wig and a ferocious snit, the embodiment of impotent rage – and absolutely wonderful. And Nancy Osbaldeston in the prologue’s “Finger” variation and as Little Red Riding Hood was vivid, delightful.