Saturday 23 April 2016

Sir Peter Wright's The Sleeping Beauty in Budapest

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Hungarian National Ballet, The Sleeping Beauty, Budapest Opera House, 17 April 2016

Last Sunday I attended the opening night of Sir Peter Wright's production of The Sleeping Beauty for the Hungarian National Ballet at the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest. I came to Budapest as a member of the London Ballet Circle of which Sir Peter is patron. Towards the end of last year the Circle newsletter carried a news item about this production together with an invitation from Sir Peter for members to join him on the first night. The newsletter arrived just before the departure of my friend Mel Wong to take up an offer of training and employment in Hungary. I told her about Sir Peter's invitation and asked her whether she would like me to visit her to which she said she would.

I arrived on Saturday evening and spent much of Sunday with Mel taking a class with her teacher Imre Andrási followed by a sumptuous lunch and the performance of The Sleeping Beauty at the Opera House in the evening (see My Trip to Hungary 21 April 2016). I did not know much about the Hungarian National Ballet before my visit and I wrote just about everything I could find out about it in The Hungarian National Ballet's Sleeping Beauty 24 Feb 2016. Having seen one of its performances and having met its director and several of its dancers and other staff at the cast party after the show I am very impressed. I asked some of them whether the company had any plans to visit the UK. I was told that it had not but that they would very much like to dance here. One of the dancers I met was British although he had trained abroad. I think they would do very well here. In the meantime, I hope that this and my other articles will encourage British and other foreign ballet goers to visit Budapest and see the company for themselves.

The Budapest Opera House is a very beautiful late 19th century building which must have been erected during the reign of Francis Joseph I (1848 - 1916) when Hungary was part of the Dual Monarchy or Austro-Hungarian Empire. As you can see from this photograph the auditorium is sumptuously decorated with a magnificent ceiling and chandelier as indeed are the other rooms. However, it is not a large theatre. It seats 1,300 spectators which is slightly smaller than the capacity of the Leeds Grand Theatre built a few years earlier and just over half that of Covent Garden. Mel and I had seats in the centre of the fifth row of the stalls and so had a perfect view of the stage.

The ballet was very much the same as the Birmingham Royal Ballet's which I had last seen at the Lowry on 27 Sept 2013 (see The Sleeping Beauty - a Review and why the Ballet is important 27 Sept 2013). Sir Peter had brought Denis Bonner and Miyako Yoshida to help him with the choreography. The sets and costumes had been designed by Philip Prowse, the lighting by Peter Teigen and technical support was provided by Doug Nicholson.

Dimitry Timofeev and Aliya Tankpaveva
Budapest Opera House, 17 April 2016
Photographer Gita Mistry
(c) 2016 Team Terpsichore: all rights reserved
The dancers and musicians, however, came from the company.

Aurora was danced by Aliya Tanykpayeva who appears in the photo to the left. According to the Hungarian National Ballet's website Tankpaveva trained at the Almaty National Ballet Academy in Kazakhstan and danced in the Almaty State Ballet for a number of years before joining the Imperial Russian Ballet Company (which despite its name appears to be based in New Zealand) and the ballet companies of the Vienna State Opera and the Zurich Opera and the Hungarian National Ballet. There appears to be a rather good documentary on her entitled Алия Таныкпаева. Жизнь на кончиках пальцев but, unfortunately, it is not dubbed or subtitled.

Tankpaveva's partner on stage was Dmitry Timofeev who also appears in the photograph. According to his entry in Network Dance (now a little out of date) he is Russian. He was born on 14 July 1989 and trained at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St Petersburg. Before joining the Hungarian National Ballet Timofeev danced with the Israeli Ballet and the Croatian National Theatre.

Tankpaveva and Timofeev danced well together. They are clearly very talented dancers but they danced the leading roles differently from the way I remembered Elisha Willis and Jamie Bond at the Lowry three years ago. Both Tankpaveva and Timofeev were impressive - particularly Timofeev in his jumps - but the roles - especially Aurora's - require acting as well as virtuosity. It was hard to imagine Tankpaveva as a 16 year old Act II (or Act 1 if you count her birth as a prologue) or the mix of emotions upon being woken up from a 100 year sleep by the love of her life which I have seen in other Auroras. But Tankpaveva, who was utterly charming, fitted the role in every other respect very well indeed.

Danielle Gould
17 April 2016
Photographer  Gita Mistry
(c) 2016 Team Terpsichore
As for the other major roles, the Lilac Fairy was danced by Zsuzsanna Papp, Carabosse by Karina Sarkissova and Bluebird by Maksym Kovtun who also doubled as Puss in Boots. In that latter role he was partnered by the young Canadian dancer Danielle Gould who danced the white cat. It is not an easy character role particularly with a heavy cat mask. She has to be both human and feline: flirtatiousness at one moment, they playful slapping her partner at the next. It is one of my favourite divertissements of any ballet and she danced it well winning the hearts of the audience. Having been trained at the National Ballet School of Canada and the John Cranko Academy it is clear that this young woman is going places. She has very kindly agreed to supply material for a feature of her which will appear very soon.

Audiences seem to applaud differently in Budapest than in London. When they like something they fall into a slow hand clap which is disconcerting to English ears as we tend to regard it as a sign of boredom rather than pleasure. There were plenty of shouts of "bravo" and "brava" throughout the performance, particularly after something spectacular. At the curtain call Karina Sarkissova called on István Dénes to take a bow and he in turn brought the orchestra to their feet. Then someone called on the director who in turn invited Sir Peter himself to take a bow.

Sir Peter was magnificent. He is not a young man. According to the Royal Opera House's website this Christmas's production of The Nutcracker will celebrate his 90th birthday but nobody would have guessed that by looking at him on stage. He bowed. He clapped his artists. He joined in the reverence. He took several curtain calls and I couldn't help but rise to my feet in admiration for the man.

To make him and us from the London Ballet Circle feel at home someone in a box to the right of the stage was raining bouquets of flowers on the dancers. Not quite as spontaneous as in Covent Garden for the chap seemed to be wearing a badge and the flowers were bound but a flower throw none the less.

It was a great night not least because I was lucky enough to be invited back stage with my compatriots to meet Sir Peter and members of the company which I have mentioned in more detail in My Trip to Hungary 21 April 2016. I missed a lot of good things in England, not least the chance to shake hands with Deborah Bull, Robert Parker, Dominic North and Sarah Kundi at Chantry Dance's studio naming ceremony (see What's in a Name 22 April 2916), and I can't be sure that I will ever get another. But even if I don't this visit to Hungary will have been worth it.

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