Review: Royal Ballet in The Sleeping Beauty at Royal Opera House

Performance: 15 May-3 Jun
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Thursday 18 May 2006

Nothing does nostalgia better than ballet and it has no shortage of opportunity for sentimental reflection: this coincidence of three major anniversaries (75 years since the company started; 60 since it became permanently based at the Opera House; and half a century since becoming Royal) has sent the cause for celebration into turbo-charged overdrive. There will be a 75th birthday gala – on 8th June – but something more lasting was needed to honour this triple anniversary. Since the company has had recent success in resurrecting lost works, the challenge was to recreate the production of *The Sleeping Beauty* that had re-opened the Opera House – and established it as the base for British ballet – in 1946.

For the few with memories of the original production, the visual test was clearly won: Peter Farmer’s realisation of Oliver Messel’s original designs, where they were known and his additional work to fill the gaps of lost knowledge brought many ghosts back to haunt the Opera House stage. Enchanting costumes in subdued pastel shades contrasted with majestic backdrops of baroque landscapes and unrestrained architectural fantasy to create an epic make-believe world without the hint of a computer graphic. The lighting played its part in creating a stunning visual aesthetic, where flickering shadows gave poignant depth to the Prince’s Act II melancholia and Carabosse’s evil.

_*The Sleeping Beauty* _requires a strong cast with lots of depth – there are well over 30 featured roles – and the Royal Ballet pulled out all the stops with Principal dancers on show everywhere. But the evening belonged to the triumphant lead duo of Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg. Cojocaru’s Aurora was a delight with her brisk, decisive steps; light jumps, floating through the air and a solid, unwavering balance at the end of the Rose Adagio, which brought a roar of approval from the House. Kobborg, too, was in fine form with tremendous elevation in his leaps, feet beating like the wings of a humming-bird. These two are at the pinnacle of excellence: like the greatest Olympians, they can achieve that special zone of numbed awareness, where every complex action is performed in pin-point precision without any hint of hurry. That these great performers seemed to control time was encouraged by the superbly paced orchestra under the baton of Valeriy Ovsyanikov.

Genesia Rosato’s Carabosse was played as a beautiful fairy, turned evil, making the role more fearsome than the usual wicked old crone, so often the interpretation when danced by a man. I prefer more suspense in the mime sequence than was given here but that’s a minor quibble. Unsurprisingly, there were signs of opening night nerves; some virtuosic roles were played too safely; and the five cavaliers seemed under-rehearsed in terms of their uniformity.

The curtain calls continued for a long time, accompanied by an old-fashioned “flower throw”, a well-deserved tribute, if not made overtly self-indulgent because the congratulatory flower throwers were still wearing their Royal Opera House staff badges! Nonetheless, this was still an evening to tingle the spine.

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