|Birmingham Royal Ballet, The Sleeping Beauty, Lowry, Salford, 27 Sep 2013|
Even though The Sleeping Beauty was premièred at St. Petersburg, its score was composed by Tchaikovsky and it was choreographed was by Petipa to Perrault's story, it is also a very English ballet. It was the work that reopened the Royal Opera House on the 20 Feb 1946 after the House had been used as a dance hall and furniture store (see "The History of the Royal Opera House" on the Royal Opera House website).
To understand the importance of The Sleeping Beauty in our social as well as our cultural history you have to know that it entered the repertoire of the Vic-Wells Ballet just before the Second World War. By all accounts the 1946 revival was a glittering occasion. It must have been one of the rare great nights of ballet to which I referred "In Leeds of all Places - Pavlova, Ashton and Magic" 18 Sept 2013. It was produced by Ninette de Valois, designed by Oliver Messel, Princess Aurora was danced by Margot Fonteyn and Petipa's choreography was supplemented by Frederick Ashton. There must have been a whiff of mothballs in the theatre as the audience had dusted off their pre-war dinner jackets, retrieved their best frocks and put on their jewellery for the first time after the Second World War. The analogy of that evening after years of war and rationing with Aurora's wedding after a century of hibernation must have been obvious and compelling.
The Birmingham Royal Ballet is the direct descendant of de Valois's company and Peter Wright's production that I saw at The Lowry last night is derived directly from that 1946 revival. "This is the gold standard" I thought to myself yesterday as gold confetti fluttered to the stage at the end of the last scene. It is as much part of our heritage as the Book of Common Prayer. Like Cranmer's masterpiece one meddles with The Sleeping Beauty at one's peril. The score for the divertissements in the last act, for example, was composed for Petipa's choreography to represent cats and bluebirds. Any other choreography jars which was why I was irritated by Matthew Bourne's production despite its brilliant dancing (see "Why can't I be nicer to Matthew Bourne" of 6 April 2013). I have yet to see David Nixon's version of The Sleeping Beauty which I gather from Mark Skipper and Andy Waddington is set in the distant future and that is perhaps just as well for I do so love the Northern Ballet (see "The Things I do for my Art: Northern Ballet's Breakfast Meeting" 23 Sepr 2013),
Returning to last night in Salford, it was a wonderful performance. Maybe not a magical one as Midsummer Night's Dream was two weeks ago but that was not the company's fault because such magic is spontaneous and is experienced only once or twice in a lifetime. A more superstitious age would have said it was in the gift of Terpsichore and that is not a bad way of looking at it.
The role of Aurora appears to me (as one who can barely pirouette) to require almost superhuman virtuosity which Elisha Willis demonstrated she possessed in abundance. Virtuosity is required also of Florimund which was danced admirably by Jamie Bond. Yet more virtuosity is required of the Bluebirds as you can see from the following short YouTube clip from the current production,
Yesterday's pas de deux was danced by Max Maslen (a Bradford lad) and Maureya Lebowitz from Malibu. Bluebird is danced by dancers who are on the way up so we can look forward to seeing a lot more from those two. Kit Holder and Yvette Knight made a charming Puss in Boots. I love the slap that she gives him as he touches her leg. Pure Ashton. The juxtaposition of Samara Downs as Carabosse with Delia Matthews as the Lilac or good Fairy was inspired. Everyone danced well and should be commended. Philip Prowse's designs dazzled the audience and Mark Jonathan's lighting thrilled us. All in all it was a wonderful evening.
I am now about to set off for London to see "Star Studded Gala in aid of the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School". In my last ballet class in Huddersfield my dear teacher Fiona warned a promising young student (albeit in a different context) that ballet can break you and I am aware that balletomania can easily become an obsession. But this is very much a one-off. I live in Yorkshire. My mother was from Yorkshire. I value ballet. I feel bound to support this Yorkshire institution.