Sleeping Beauty, Royal Ballet, January 2010

Marianela Nuñez as Aurora, Royal Ballet photo by Bill Cooper

With the old Oliver Messel designs, this production by Monica Mason and Christopher Newton is simply wonderful, and with a superb cast on this first night of the present short run, we were all set for a terrific evening. In fact the dancing was excellent, so why was it that the applause during the performance was lukewarm? The answer, I’m afraid was the ragged conducting and occasional poor tempi from Valeriy Ovsyanikov. What is his excuse? That he had insufficient time for rehearsals? Maybe, but he conducted the same ballet in October and November, and his failure to start the music up in Act III immediately Aurora and her prince appear on stage just gave a sense of negligence. A one or two second gap may not seem important, but it ruins the impact. This was near the end, of course, but the problems showed themselves already in the Prologue with very slow tempi ruining the first and third fairy variations, and then the Lilac Fairy’s solo too. This music needs to sound exciting, but it failed, and the woodwind was occasionally out of phase with the brass. A world-class company like the Royal Ballet deserves better. Having got that off my chest, let us turn to the dancers.

The fairy variations in the Prologue were very well danced by Yuhui Choe, Hikaru Kobayashi, Helen Crawford, Iohna Loots and Emma Maguire, in that order. All were the same as I saw in October, except for Emma Maguire replacing Laura Morera, who in this performance danced the Bluebird pas-de-deux with Steven McRae. Both of them were excellent, and the Act III variations — Florestan and his sisters — were brilliantly performed by Sergei Polunin, Akane Takada and Yuhui Choe. Laura McCulloch did well as the Lilac Fairy, Elizabeth McGorian was beautifully dramatic as the wicked fairy, Carabosse, and I thought Gary Avis was excellent in the small part of the French prince in Act I, where too often, Princess Aurora has a weak partner for her first small pas-de-deux. She was gloriously danced by Marianela Nuñez, with Thiago Soares as a fine Prince Florimund.

Such a shame that the superb dancing could not be matched by some really good conducting, but like last October’s performance, which was also conducted by Ovsyanikov, there was not a single cheer except during the bows at the end, and for Nuñez after her Rose Adagio. This is not how it should be, and the Royal Ballet needs to use better conductors. Boriz Gruzin did an excellent job with Romeo and Juliet last week, so it can be done, but not apparently by Ovsyanikov. And he had the sauce to take a solo bow after the entire orchestra pit was empty!

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