Review: the Royal Ballet’s ‘The Sleeping Beauty’

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As part of the Royal Ballet’s live cinema season, director Ross MacGibbon brings our beloved classical ballet The Sleeping Beauty live on our screens across the world.

The scenario of this particular fairy tale is more saccharine in content than the likes of Swan Lake or Giselle.  Upon her sixteenth birthday, Princess Aurora is destined to sleep for one hundred years after being cursed by the wicked fairy Carabosse, with only a true love’s kiss being able to break the spell. Despite its great renown, the ballet has been criticised by some as filled with too much ‘choreographic “filler”‘ and monotonous variations with little to no depth or drama. It is what we’ve come to expect from one of the purest forms of classical ballet in history, so you’d expect this rendition of the ballet to follow suite.

However, for this particular performance there may be a unique twist to the tale. Traditionally, The Sleeping Beauty is more considered as a ballet where you can immerse yourself in the spectacle and marvel at the ballerina’s technical precision rather than becoming absorbed in an intense story. Yet the recreation of the Royal Ballet’s 1946 choreography, perfectly executed by a phenomenal array of dancers, alongside Tchaikovsky’s spellbinding score brought so much greater depth and character to the performance. You may even find yourself clapping at your laptop screen!

This technical prowess couples with creating an emotionally driven character arc.

After taking over the role last minute due to Lauren Cuthbertson’s injury, Fumi Kaneko elegantly embodies the role of an excited yet innocent sixteen-year-old Aurora with assured sensibility, musical intuition and an exultant display of bravura physical stamina. With a role known by many esteemed dancers as extremely technically demanding, she manages to effortlessly complete the strenuous Rose Adagio with barely a muscle twitch. Yet where this production in particular excels is how smoothly this technical prowess couples with creating an emotionally driven character arc. Kaneko gracefully transitions from the vibrant sixteen – year – old girl, cavorting around the stage with charisma and boundless energy, to the softer and trancelike movements of Act Two to reflect her almost ethereal transformation. This character journey was so touching and transports audiences into the heart and soul of the sleeping princess.  

Federico Bonelli’s portrayal as the wishful romantic Prince Florimund partners Kaneko’s dancing superbly, with the natural spark between them being particularly prominent Act Three Pas de Deux. Bonelli himself was an absolute joy to watch, as he clearly relishes every moment he’s on stage. His melancholic movements of Act Two serves as perfect accompaniments to the mysterious melodies of Tchaikovsky’s score, creating yet another moving performance. Even whilst completing the merciless jumps, leaps and turns of Act Three he shines with excitable teenage youth like our princess making them a dancing partnership made in heaven. 

This night also showcased the enchanting work of the supporting cast with the dazzling sequence of solo work for the Fairies in Act Two; each adept at depicting the feminine weightlessness of fairies. Gina Storm-Jensen as the Lilac fairy was a delight; she relishes every moment she’s on stage, exuding with the magical charisma of a Disney Princess. Her heart-warming performance makes her one of the most endearing fairy godmothers in Royal Ballet history. Kristen Mcnally’s graceful yet menacing high cheek boned antagonist Caraboss is absolutely mesmerising, clearly revelling in each gesture. 

It truly felt like a piece of artwork come to life before our eyes and it was pure magic.

Yet the true beauty of this performance can be found in the majestic décor. From the great breadth of rural scenery peeking through behind the coliseum-esque opulence of the castle pillars and staircases, to the ominous haunted swamp hinting at something dark mysterious. The art department truly excelled in transporting audiences to a magical real where we no longer feel surrounded by the four walls of our rooms at home – we are there in the moment, celebrating, mourning and marvelling with the royal court and town’s people. Hats off must go to the technicians who performed that seemingly effortless transition in Act Two’s boat journey, with simultaneous backdrop and prop change to reflect movement. It truly felt like a piece of artwork come to life before our eyes and it was pure magic. 

Despite knowing the story like the back of your hand, this version excites you in ways unheard of for such a simplistic Ballet. Any potential flaws, whether it be the slightly bizarre earpieces for the queen’s outfit in Act One or the underwhelming plain black backdrop for Act Two, can just be considered as nit-picks.  Royal Ballet’s production of The Sleeping Beauty enchants all audiences in bringing out the drama and depth yet still carrying the ceremonial grandeur and precision of one of the purest forms of Classical Ballet. Bravo!!

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