Sleeping Beauty with Rojo and Muntagirov, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, January 2013Posted on 10 January 2013
Kenneth MacMillan’s production of Sleeping Beauty, with its glorious costumes by Nicholas Geogiardis, is a joy to watch, the sets by Peter Farmer reflecting a mistiness in the world beyond the action like some famous Renaissance paintings. The expression of the action is crystal clear in its use of mime, and for anyone unfamiliar with the conventions a helpful article in the programme is worth reading before seeing the Prologue.
In this classical Russian take on the fairy tale, the nasty fairy Carabosse is inadvertently omitted from the guest list for the christening, and as the king checks the list and is reassured it is complete, this was beautifully mimed to say nothing of what follows. The orchestra in the meantime gave a fine rendering of Tchaikovsky’s wonderful score under the baton of Gavin Sutherland, who allowed the music to swell with emotion at appropriate moments.
Already in the Prologue some of the solos were terrific, and those fairy variations where they endow the baby with beauty, wit, physical grace, vocal grace, and musical perfection, were a delight. Adela Ramirez showed musicality and beautiful control in the second variation, Laurretta Summerscales was magically musical in the slow third, and Nancy Osbaldeston performed exquisite jumps in the fifth. I could quibble with slightly slow tempos in two of the variations, including the sixth one for the Lilac Fairy, but overall the musical rendering was wonderful and Daria Klimentova was an elegant and eloquent Lilac Fairy throughout the ballet.
In the nineteenth century when this ballet was first produced the tradition was to have characters like Carabosse played by men, and James Streeter gave a wonderful portrayal, showing huge emotion and anger rather than the one-dimensional nastiness one sometimes sees. And in this production she remains on stage in Act II to counter the magic of the Lilac Fairy, until finally the prince kisses the princess and Carabosse falls to the stage. Glorious theatre.
As the prince himself, Vadim Muntagirov also gave an intriguing portrayal, showing at his first appearance in Act II ennui, frustration and a need for something he doesn’t yet quite grasp. As the music changes, the backdrop of a dense wood comes down, the Lilac Fairy appears and the prince can start to feel his own emotions. By Act III Muntagirov showed himself so full of joy he looked two inches taller, and his main solo was thrilling. The pas-de-deux with Tamara Rojo as the princess was perfect, and her pirouettes beyond compare. For the artistic director of the company to take on this huge role is quite an achievement, and she was superb if somewhat joyless.
But whatever dancers you see in this production, the costumes, sets, orchestra and corps de ballet remain the same, and there was fine dancing from the corps with some excellent solo work. In Act III, Anjuli Hudson, Senri Kou and Laurretta Summerscales were a very strong trio in the silver variation, Anjuli Hudson and Nancy Osbaldeston were both delightful as The White Cat and Red Riding Hood, and Yonah Acosta was a very fine Bluebird with Shiori Kase as his princess. The woodwind was terrific, with Gareth Hulse making wonderful sounds on the oboe for the White Cat episode.
This production, first performed by the ENB seven years ago, is as good as you will see anywhere, and the Prologue, which can be a bit camp in some productions, is very well judged. Wonderful conducting by Gavin Sutherland kept the tension up throughout — a super performance.
Performances at the London Coliseum continue until January 19, followed by the New Theatre, Oxford from February 19 to 23, and the Southampton Mayflower from February 26 to March 2 — for details click here.