Review: English National Ballet & English National Ballet School - My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty - The Peacock

Performance: 24 March - 2 April 2016
Reviewed by Claire Cohen - Tuesday 29 March 2016

English National Ballet School - 'My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty'. Photo: ASH

Performance reviewed: 24 March

The premiere of English National Ballet & English National Ballet School’s family favourite My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty was a jolly start to the Easter weekend.

The full length of the well loved classical ballet is cleverly condensed by Company Associate Artist George Williamson to tell the famous fairy tale in just one hour. Aided by a narrator, the shorter scenes and clear mime enable children to follow the story while keeping their attention.

ENB’s My First series, now in its fifth year, is designed to appeal to children aged three and over, who may not have experienced a ballet before. There were plenty of young children in the audience for this evening performance. For some, the finishing time of 8.30pm, would be a late night, but few were showing signs of tiredness.

The formula worked: I couldn’t find a three year old sitting nearby but Ella, aged four, was entranced. She had asked her mum why there were two Sleeping Beauties so had clearly understood there were two on stage.

One was the beautiful 16 year old Princess Aurora, danced by an expressive Anna Cirano Cerda. The other was the narrator, an older – and reassuringly alive – Princess Aurora recounting her own story of her christening, how she pricked her finger on her 16th birthday, fell asleep for 100 years and was woken by a handsome prince.

Saskia Portway as the older Aurora was a favourite universal aunt character. Dressed in a long golden gown, she moved within and around the action, holding the children spellbound with her warm, clear voice. The combination of narrative with ballet kept a balance, especially after the first scene, which was a little too speech heavy.

Children in the audience seemed to differ in opinion according to their age. “I liked the story being told to me and I thought it was magical,“said six year old Brenna. Her sister Evita (eight), felt she didn’t need a narrator. ‘“But I really liked the Lilac Fairy,” she said, at the interval.

The Lilac Fairy, danced by Madison Whitley, was extremely popular. Not only for saving the day with her magic, but her long limbs held a beautiful line in strong poses. No messing with her, as the splendid bad fairy Carabosse, portrayed convincingly by Alex Hallas, found out.

The whole cast, whether fairies or fairytale creatures, handsome princes or court ladies, danced with vigour. Although some of the notoriously difficult Rose Adagio was adapted for the performers, all second year students at ENB School, it was still recognisable and they still went for the difficult balances with a very pleasing effect. Cerda ignored the occasional wobble as she gave her hand to each of her four suitors while balancing en pointe, like a true professional.

A clever piece of editing was to dispense with the marriage celebration scene and include the fairytale characters who dance in it in the forest scene instead. Thus, the Prince comes across them as, guided by the Lilac Fairy, he makes his way through the forest to Sleeping Beauty’s castle. As they are animals and birds, it seems a natural place for them to be. Puss in Boots, the Cat, Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, and the two Bluebirds, all gave competent and highly entertaining performances which delighted the children in the audience.

A final pas de deux between Princess Aurora, now awake and in love with her prince, ably danced by Jan Spunda, was excellent. The pair executed some difficult holds with impressive aplomb to bring the ballet to a satisfying close. We were in no doubt that Sleeping Beauty and her Prince would live happily ever after.

The whole cast was a credit to the ENB School. If they can keep up this standard as this enchanting production, with its colourful costumes and lavish set, tours to theatres in the UK, many children and adults are in for a treat.

Continues at The Peacock until 2 April – and returns for a further run 6 – 10 July

More info & UK tour dates:

Claire Cohen is a freelance dance writer. After attending ballet classes for adult beginners at English National Ballet she took part in their Dance is the Word workshop, fusing her writing skills with an enthusiasm for ballet and dance. Find her on Twitter @balletbichon

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