As their first performance of 2018, and under David Bintley’s directorship, Birmingham Royal Ballet has decided to undertake none other than the most classical of 19th century ballets – The Sleeping Beauty. Retaining much of Marius Petipa’s original sublime choreography, alongside Tchaikovsky’s iconic score, Sir Peter Wright’s production is a masterpiece of visual and balletic beauty.
The structure is slightly unusual, being comprised of a lengthy prologue and three subsequent acts, divided by two intervals and a short pause. It begins at a leisurely pace, taking time to set the scene with the opening cast clothed in full royal regalia, before introducing any actual ballet elements. Some of the key characters are not ballet technical roles, instead reliant on their mastery of ballet mime to convey the storyline. The villain and representation of all evil, The Fairy Carabosse, is one such role, and Samara Downs exudes elegant menace as she prowls around the stage. Yet, as the only element of shade to an otherwise light-filled storyline, it is a shame she appears so infrequently, slipping away midway through the second act without ceremony.
Unrestrained by the silent nature of ballet, the live orchestra takes advantage of every inch of the Donald Gordon theatre’s superior acoustics to unleash the full power of Tchaikovsky’s music. The set is breath-taking in its scale; adorned with rich tapestries and towering candelabras, it is a visual banquet of opulence and grandeur, further complemented by the sumptuous array of costumes.
The production is female-driven; whilst the women are given multiple solos and lead positions, the men are cast predominantly in supporting roles throughout all but the final act, and a frequent unusual trio arrangement comprised of two females and one male further tips the balance in favour of the women. Overall the men’s technique is weaker, with some of the dancers showing the strain in their partner work. There are of course exceptions to this, the most notable of which are Feargus Campbell (Puss-in-Boots), Lachlan Monaghan (The Bluebird) and Mathias Dingman in the role of Prince Florimund.
Dingman is striking both in his position as the first defined male character, and his technical abilities. But with the part of Aurora cited as one of the most demanding of all classical female roles, it is unsurprising that Momoko Hirata emerges as the undisputed star of the show. A true prima ballerina, Hirata is beauty personified; formidable strength and unrelenting stamina harnessed into exquisite dance technique. Her delicacy of movement and graceful lines are matched by an eloquent portrayal in her transition from naively exuberant teen to poised, regal woman.
Hirata was not the only one who displayed spectacular characterisation through her dance. Brooke Ray and Feargus Campbell as the White Cat and Puss-in-Boots are the pure embodiment of their animal counterparts with their feline duet; bodies slinking and “paws” darting in the distinctively playful, yet haughty, demeanour all cats seem to be the master of. Lachlan Monaghan also showed his animalistic artistry in his role as The Bluebird – flying across the stage in leaps and bounds, fluttering feet propelling him into the air.
All aspects, from the set to the costumes, the music to the dancing, and every single moment within, is touched by an exceptional beauty, making BRB’s The Sleeping Beauty a true work of art destined to endure the test of time. Like Aurora, were this ballet to slumber for a century, upon its return, it would remain just as enchanting and beautiful as it stands today.
(Image credit: Emma Kauldhar)