Archive for the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Category

Sleeping Beauty with Rojo and Muntagirov, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, January 2013

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.

All images ENB/ Patrick Baldwin

All images ENB/ Patrick Baldwin

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.

Carabosse and attendants

Carabosse and attendants

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.

Good magic versus dark

Good magic versus dark

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.

Muntagirov and Rojo

Muntagirov and Rojo

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.

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Sleeping Beauty with Cuthbertson and Polunin, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, December 2011

16 December, 2011

All images by Johan Persson

This performance, broadcast by live cinema relay, had a super cast along with plenty of musical excitement from the conductor and the orchestra, right from the very beginning of the Prologue. As we start, at the christening of the baby princess, those wonderful fairy variations were danced by Yuhui Choe, Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Fumi Kaneko, Iohna Loots, and Emma Maguire. Yuhui Choe in particular was wonderfully soft and musical in the first variation, and Emma Maguire was superbly musical in the fifth (pointy) variation. Claire Calvert was the Lilac fairy, and Kristen McNally a defiantly dramatic Carabosse. She was super.

Cuthbertson as Aurora in Act III

In Act I Lauren Cuthberston was delightful as the young Princess Aurora, and Nehemiah Kish showed strong stage presence as the English Prince who plays the main supporting role among the four suitors. The Rose Adagio that she performs with them came over entirely naturally, and Cuthbertson danced beautifully in her solo just before Carabosse enters to give her a spindle and ruin the party. Lovely acting from Cuthberston as she collapses and the English Prince catches her.

Polunin as the prince in Act II

 

In Act II, Sergei Polunin as the Prince demonstrated real excitement at the moment the Lilac fairy showed him the vision of Aurora, and the musical accompaniment for the journey to the sleeping forest came through with great charm. When the prince awakened the sleeping princess the music rang forth with huge power — congratulations to Boris Gruzin in the orchestra pit. Then as we swept forward into Act III, with barely a break for the curtain to close, the wedding party moved into full swing with Florestan and his sisters dancing to Tchaikovsky’s gold, silver, sapphire and diamond variations. Emma Maguire and Melissa Hamilton danced peerlessly in this pas-de-trois, supported by Dawid Trzensimiech who seemed to be on a different beat to the ladies, though his technique was excellent. As Princess Florine and the Bluebird, Yuhui Choe and Alexander Campbell were wonderful, their partnering outstanding, and their solos superb, but where was the applause? The audience was remarkably subdued throughout the evening, though they finally woke up for the grand pas-de-deux with Polunin and Cuthbertson, who were excellent.

Comparing this performance with the one I saw on October 31, the music was better this time by orders of magnitude. Since it was the same conductor, Boris Gruzin, the only explanation can be rehearsals. This is the big problem with the ballet at Covent Garden — rehearsal time. But what a pleasure to be at such a fine performance, and those costumes, recently updated and recreated are glorious.

This is a Sleeping Beauty to be proud of, and performances in the present run continue until December 21 — for details click here.

Review of Sleeping Beauty, with Rojo and Bonelli, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, October 2011

1 November, 2011

Colourful new costumes with Oliver Messel’s original designs updated by Peter Farmer, fine ensemble dancing and some excellent solos, what more could one want? Well … coordinating the conducting better with the dancing would help.

Tamara Rojo in Act II, all photos Bill Cooper

During the first interval, a lady from the audience told me she thought only one of the fairy variations in the Prologue was well danced, and that was Emma Maguire in the fifth variation (Fairy of the Golden Vine). Certainly she showed enormous poise and control, as she did in the pas-de-trois from Act III, along with fine performances by Hikaru Kobayashi and Kenta Kura. But what went wrong with the other variations in the Prologue? The audience was lukewarm about the first four (Yuhui Choe, Helen Crawford, Hikaru Kobayashi, Samantha Raine), but I’m inclined to blame the conducting, which I found sluggish. After Itziar Mendizabal followed with the Lilac Fairy’s variation, the young men dance, but the music was terribly plodding, which makes it hard for the dancers. Good performances on stage however, as the king throws the invitation list to the floor, realising his master of ceremonies has omitted Carabosse, and then on she came with her ghastly attendants. Genesia Rosato was a fine Carabosse, but as her coach exited something crashed. A bit of extra excitement was welcome and the audience around me were amused.

Back for Act I with the delightful Tamara Rojo as Princess Aurora, and Gary Avis showing fine stage presence as the English prince. Pity about the ragged brass at the start of Act I, and pity about the Christopher Wheeldon’s new choreography for the Garland Dance, which is supposed to be a waltz. Problems with the brass reappeared in Act II, but Boris Gruzin’s conducting warmed up later in that Act, and the journey to the sleeping realm came over effectively.

Rojo and Bonelli in Act III

Act III contained some very fine dancing: the pas-de-trois of Florestan and his Sisters by Kobayashi, Kura and Maguire, as I mentioned earlier, and Yuhui Choe was a brilliant Princess Florine with her partner Alexander Campbell as the Bluebird. They danced beautifully together, and Red Riding Hood and the Wolf were wittily portrayed by Leanne Cope and Johannes Stepanek, with the little trees that now come on stage adding a nice touch. As the principal characters, Tamara Rojo and Federico Bonelli formed a fine partnership and came over as real fairy tale characters, he the perfect dark haired prince and she showing the reserve befitting a princess who is manipulated by forces outside her immediate control.

This revamped production with its new costumes is certainly worth seeing, though I hope the Company can make more rehearsal time available for putting the orchestra together with the dancers.

Performances with various casts continue until December 21 — for details click here.

Sleeping Beauty, Birmingham Royal Ballet, BRB, London Coliseum, April 2010

21 April, 2010

Sleeping Beauty is a glorious union of music and dance with Tchaikovski’s score matched by Petipa’s choreography, and Peter Wright’s production for the Birmingham Royal Ballet does it full justice. The designs by Philip Prowse are excellent — the gold of the sets, and the black in some of the male costumes give a rich feel without the overwhelming pastel shades found in some other productions. The Prologue comes off very well, with the Lilac Fairy’s variation being taken by the sixth of six fairies, named here as Beauty, Honour, Modesty, Song, Temperament, and Joy. Their short tutus are all of similar colours, while the Lilac Fairy herself, gracefully portrayed by Andrea Tredinnick, is in a long tutu befitting a more calming and nurturing role. All the soloists did well, and Marion Tait as Carabosse was superbly musical as usual. Worth noting also that David Morse as Catalabutte, the master of ceremonies, showed fine stage presence and suitable angst, mortified by his omission of Carabosse from the guest list to the Christening.

Marion Tait as Carabosse, photo Bill Cooper

This production has some wonderful moments, and I particularly liked the way Carabosse reappears in Act I as a shrouded old woman, apparently willing to be arrested after giving Aurora the spindle, yet suddenly throwing off her disguise and creating havoc. Her disappearance in mid-air is very effective thanks to excellent lighting by Mark Jonathan. In fact the lighting was part of the glory of this production, giving a contrast between good and evil, particularly when both are on stage at the same time in the form of the Lilac Fairy and Carabosse. Also in Act I there was some slightly unfriendly competition between two of the four princes, played by Tyrone Singleton and Robert Parker, and it’s little vignettes like this that help to make the production come alive.

Nao Sakuma as Aurora, photo Bill Cooper

Nao Sakuma danced well as Aurora, and was very hansomely partnered in the later acts by Iain Mackay. He did a fine job as her prince, stepping in for Chi Cao, who was unable to get back into the country due to the recent absence of air flights. It was the first time they had danced these roles together, and they did it perfectly. This is a company that obviously works well together, producing excellent soloists and a fine corps de ballet. In Act III, Mathias Dingman and Alexander Campbell were brilliantly matched in the pas-de-quatre, as were Carol-Anne Millar and Angela Paul, who showed magnificent sparkle. Joseph Caley and Momoko Hirata were excellent in the Bluebird pas-de-deux, and I loved Sonia Aguilar as the White Cat — she was utterly charming.

If you want to see Sleeping Beauty, this production is terrific, and musically it was better than the recent run by the Royal Ballet. Paul Murphy conducted and drew exciting sounds from the orchestra, making the journey to the enchanted wood in Act II sound . . . well, enchanting. The choreography too, at that point, is delightful, and now includes the Awakening pas-de-deux.

Performances continue until Saturday, 24th April.

Sleeping Beauty, Royal Ballet, January 2010

19 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!

Sleeping Beauty, Royal Ballet, October 2009

24 October, 2009

Marianela Nuñez as the Lilac Fairy, Royal Ballet photo by Johan Persson

This was the first night of the present run, and featured some excellent dancing, but the evening never really took off. That may partly have been the conducting of Valeriy Ovsyanikov, who manipulated the tempos to suit the dancers, but sometimes went too far in slowing the music down, particularly for one of Aurora’s solos in Act III, which was completely spoiled. The cast was led by Ivan Putrov and Sarah Lamb as Florimund and Aurora, with Marianela Nuñez as the Lilac Fairy. Nuñez danced beautifully, Putrov was an elegant and worthy prince, but I was disappointed with Lamb, who seemed to be going through the steps in an anorexic haze.

Carabosse was well portrayed by Genesia Rosato, who seemed to take a malicious delight in the role, and the fairy variations in the Prologue were very well performed by Yuhui Choe, Hikaru Kobayashi, Helen Crawford, Iohna Loots and Laura Morera, in that order. I thought Hikaru Kobayashi was particularly good in the second variation representing Vitality — the original virtues of these five fairies are Purity, Vitality, Generosity, Eloquence and Passion. The Prologue was a great success, but I felt the performance tailed off a little afterwards, perhaps because of a lack of vitality, generosity, eloquence and passion on the part of Sarah Lamb. Purity she had, but it wasn’t enough. In Act III, Laura Morera and Steven McRae were superb as Princess Florine and the Bluebird, his solo steps being beautifully executed. There is no gold variation in this production, but the silver, sapphire and diamond variations, for Florestan and his sisters, were danced by Sergei Polunin, Helen Crawford, and Samantha Raine, who was very good indeed. Polunin, I thought was brilliant, and his jetés were an exercise in perfection.

This lovely production by Monica Mason and Christopher Newton, using the old Oliver Messel designs with additions by Peter Farmer, is one of the company’s gems, but although beautifully danced, this first evening lacked energy and spontaneity. Some ushers threw flowers from the Amphi and Balcony at the end, although they seemed to dump them down rather quickly, perhaps because the applause was on the weak side and there hadn’t been a single cheer throughout the performance.

Review of Sleeping Beauty, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House, August 2009

15 August, 2009

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What better way to end the Mariinsky Ballet’s tour of London than with this lovely production by Konstantin Sergeyev, with its beautiful sets and costumes by Simon Virsaladze. The corps de ballet danced superbly, Igor Kolb made a very fine prince, and Maxim Zuzin danced delightfully as the bluebird. All might have been well if Pavel Bubelnikov could have done a better job conducting, but the orchestra sounded as if it wasn’t really playing as a team, and each female solo was taken so slowly it became more a sequence of poses than a dance. I’ve never before heard some of Tchaikovsky’s glorious score sound like this, and while the interval timings and the start-time were strictly adhered to, the performance overran by almost twenty minutes. Is no-one in charge of this production? I’ve heard conductors slow down female solos before, because they’ve been asked to by the dancer herself and have entirely overdone it and ruined her solo, but to ruin every female solo in the ballet is extraordinary. Because of this absurd conducting it’s very difficult to judge the many performers, but certainly Evgenia Obraztsova made a poor Princess Aurora, except when partnered by Igor Kolb. In one solo in Act I she was so off the music that she finished it with two bars yet to go. This is a striking difference from her wonderful performance in Spectre de la Rose for the Royal Ballet’s Tribute to Diaghilev in June. It’s difficult to judge the fairy variations in the Prologue when played at this pace, so I’ll say nothing about the performers, but when Ekaterina Kondaurova follows them with the lilac fairy solo the music should lift our spirits. It did nothing of the sort because it sounded like sludge and you simply can’t dance to that — nor could she. The entrance of Islom Baimuradov as Carabosse was not as strong as one might have hoped, and his stage presence seemed a bit weak, but this may be partly due to the production. Out of all the soloists, I thought the Diamond Fairy in Act III did very well — I believe it was Anastasia Petushkova, replacing Irina Golub — but the conducting was a travesty, and it is hardly surprising that the audience was so luke-warm.

As a conductor of both ballet and opera at the Mariinsky, Pavel Bubelnikov is working alongside the opera’s artistic director, Valery Gergiev, whose performance of Sleeping Beauty at the Proms last year was sensational. Bubelnikov may say he’s slowing it down for the dancers, but that won’t wash because in some parts of the score, such as the journey to the enchanted forest, and much of the Rose adagio, there is essentially no dancing, yet they sounded very bland. There was also a production glitch in the journey to the sleeping forest when the barque carrying the prince and the lilac fairy bumped to a sudden halt, so the prince got out, the interior curtain closed and remained closed until the finale of the act. I know that production glitches happen from time to time, but the Mariinsky Ring had far too many of them, and one just has the impression that the stage hands haven’t really got their act together. Pity.

Sleeping Beauty, English National Ballet, London Coliseum, Dec 2008

31 December, 2008

The choreography was by Kenneth Macmillan after Petipa, but it was a disappointing evening with indifferent conducting by Gavin Sutherland. There was not the slightest comparison to Valery Gergiev’s magnificent concert performance at the Proms in the summer. It may be hard to bring out the excitement of the Rose Adagio in Act I when the conductor has to slow the music to suit the action on stage, but this problem does not apply to the journey to the Sleeping Kingdom in Act II where there is no dancing at all. Here one of the high points of the music failed utterly, and the same was true for almost every part of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score — the waltz in Act I, for instance, was just lost in a morass of correct notes played with no incision or feeling.

Having panned the conducting, what about the dancing? By far the best part of the evening was Andre Portasio’s superb performance of Carabosse — his stage presence was riveting and his arm movements well expressed his role as a witch exercising immense power. In the Prologue the fairy variations were well enough performed, and Adela Ramirez was particularly good in the final variation, but Jenna Lee was a very insipid lilac fairy. In Act I the Rose Adagio was disappointing, and the unknown prince who partnered Agnes Oaks, as princess Aurora, did a poor job. He looked nervous, and her pirouettes were all off centre. In Act II the conducting and the lilac fairy formed a fatally weak combination, and although Thomas Edur looked good as the prince, he has almost nothing to do here. Finally Act III fell pretty flat. Edur and Oaks were very fine in their pas-de-deux work, but in his solos Edur disappointed by marking some of Mcamillan’s steps, and it would be an understatement to say that the whole thing lacked fizz. The fairy variations were partly cut, Nicholas Reeves as the gold fairy lacked power, and is the Macmillan choreography really so weak here, or was it due to the cuts? The bluebird pas-de-deux was danced by Crystal Costa and Anton Lukovkin, and while he had some excellent jetés-en-tournant, his entrechat-six were not as well executed, and his upper body showed weakness. Carping aside, Andre Portasio stood out as a magnificent Carabosse, but even he couldn’t overcome the plodding work of the conductor, and that is what killed this performance. The dancers tried their best, but there was no sustained applause, and it was a sadly dull evening.