Review: Peter Schaufuss Ballet - Tchaikovsky Trilogy – Sleeping Beauty
Performance reviewed: 24 July
The Schaufuss trilogy of Tchaikovsky ballets begins to take a more coherent shape after this second part. A baton has been handed on from the first ballet ( Swan Lake) such that Sleeping Beauty becomes a sequel. A sense of déjà vu begins with the same bare set complete with murky perspex screens into which is wheeled the “magic couch” that began and ended Swan Lake. When we first encounter Irek Mukhamedov as the King, he is dressed as he was for the role of The Sorceror Rothbart in the previous ballet, which suggests that they are one and the same person. Carabosse (the evil fairy in a traditional interpretation of Sleeping Beauty) has become the King’s daughter, making her both a half-sister to Aurora and, possibly, the product of a union between Rothbart and the Queen in Swan Lake. In another twist, both Queens in the two ballets are played by the same dancer (Zoe Ash-Brown) and wear the same dress (albeit in black and red versions) so that we wonder if she is, in fact, the same Queen. It might have been helpful for the programme notes to have included a family tree.
There are lots of other links. The four Princes who come to court the young Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty are male facsimiles of the four Princesses presented as possible brides to Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake. They share the same choreographic motifs, crudely representing Spain, Arabia, China and Russia. It is a clever device and it looks as if Schaufuss the matchmaker will bring the four national pairs together as couples for the final part of the trilogy.
The concluding choreography in Sleeping Beauty mimics the opening choreography for Swan Lake and it is the same character of the Dream Master (played in both ballets by Stefan Wise) that conducts proceedings. In Sleeping Beauty he effectively takes the place of the more familiar Lilac Fairy and he will appear again to mastermind events in The Nutcracker. All these – and many other iterative similarities – have a challenging, intellectual appeal and yet they also become confusing. The prince in both ballets is also played by the same dancer (Alban Lendorf) – wearing differently coloured versions of the same cropped jacket – and yet both princes retain their traditional name (Siegfried in Swan Lake and Florimund in Sleeping Beauty) suggesting that they alone retain separate identities. Yet, if the Queen is the same character in both ballets then the prince is her son in one and wooing her daughter in the other. That would be weird, even for a Schaufuss ballet.
There is more conventional dancing in this second part of the trilogy, notably for Lendorf and Mukhamedov. The latter even has a solo that shows he has lost none of his expressive power in presenting a commanding stage persona. While Irek fans might have been disappointed by his lack of time and action on stage in Swan Lake, they are likely to be more satisfied by his greater involvement in this sequel.
Tchaikovsky’s music was butchered in a recording that reverberated badly and was played at a breakneck speed in places. Had this been a live orchestra (if only!) I might have thought they were rushing to get to the pub. Frankly, the music has been so badly distorted thus far that it is an insult to associate Tchaikovsky’s name with the trilogy.
What we seem to be witnessing is the unfurling of an artwork that is coming together not unlike the way in which an expressionist artist makes long suggestive brushstrokes on a large canvas. Stepping back to admire the view, the painter might understand where the artwork is heading and what final image will be achieved, but to anyone else it looks a mess until that final paintwork is applied. Taken as an independent entity and viewed in isolation, this Sleeping Beauty is a poor representation of Tchaikovsky’s majestic score (although not remotely as bad as the Swan Lake that preceded it). However, the trilogy is yet to be completed by The Nutcracker and I live in hope that it may yet all come together in some effective dénouement.
Continues at the London Coliseum until Saturday 28 July – with The Sleeping Beauty (Thu), The Nutcracker (Wed & Fri) – and the chance to see all three ballets on Saturday.
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