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Sleeping Beauty premieres

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Well, we had our first glimpse of the Royal Ballet's new Sleeping Beauty last night in Natalia Makarova's production with designs by Luisa Spinatelli. It's Makarova's first attempt at producing this classic and I guess anyone who does this for the Royal Ballet has quite a task, given the company's long history of involvement with this particular work.

Effectively she has re-staged the old Sergeev Kirov production with some emendations and additions. The first is the introduction of a Cupid who begins and ends the ballet and makes an appearance in the Vision Scene. I can't say that this is a change which wins my heart, for me it's all too cute. In fact, the entire beginning, with groups of children skipping after 'heralds on horseback going to the palace' was something I could have done without. Said heralds, pulled along on stone horses reminded me all too vividly of the Commendatore from Don Giovanni wearing a red nose.

The Prologue probably differs most from the version Royal Ballet audiences are familar with and to my recollection it's virtually identical with the Sergeev version. And for me this is the greatest loss. We saw from the reconstructed version the Kirov brought to Covent Garden just how close the De Valois/Sergueff was to the original, and I find Petipa's choroegraphy, in the balabilee especially, so much richer, more varied and original than Sergeev's version.

The Ashton garland dance has, of course, been scrapped and we have the version familiar from the Kirov, complete with children. There is no transformation at the end of Act I, we simply see the courtiers falling asleep.

There are some changes in the Hunt scene. No longer does the Prince (given his old name of Desiree) walk on stage and immediately score a bullseye in the arrow shooting contest. We have two dances for the hunt and one pair of Watteauesque peasants.

The Vision scene seems to follow Sergeev's version and Desiree has the opportunity to practise a few jumps between the exit of the Dryads and the reappearance of the Lilac Fairy. Follows a somewhat confused journey through the sleeping wood and the discovery of Aurora, but instead of the Lilac Fairy suggesting to the Prince that a kiss will awaken Aurora, that task is left to Cupid.

The last act follows the usual pattern. For the first time we have Cinderella and Prince Fortune, with new choreography by Makarova. We also have a pair of pages who perform a little number to the entrada for the grand pas. But neither Carabosse or the Lilac Fairy make it to the party. The latter materialises out of a vase of lilacs at the back of the stage for the apotheosis, and then Cupid strikes a cute little pose to signal that the evening is over.

On the whole I like Spinatelli's costumes - light, simple in outline but with some attractive details. Curiously, Aurora's tutus are the least attractive and in the hunt scene the Prince enters in his shirt sleeves and wearing a small cloak, which looks sloppy to my eyes. The Lilac Fairy is given a long dress for this Act, which looks dangerously like a nightdress and negligee. And in the prologue, it's hard to distinguish her from her attendants because their tutus are identical in colour. Prize for the worst costume though goes to Aurora's wedding dress - a really dowdy number which called to my mind a remark attributed to one of the men in the company; "Margot dressed at Dior and St Laurent while ....... dresses at Neil Cunningham." Who he you may well ask.

I can't comment about the sets - the stage management was more than usually awful and the lighting so dim that one couldn't really see the effect from the stalls.

Bussell and Bolle danced the leads - she was replaced in the coda of the grand pas by Marianella Nunez who had been dancing Lilac Fairy, so presumably all was not well with her performance throughout the evening. Bolle was his usual self; nice looking, a decent partner, beautiful arched feet, a modest jump and a reasonable technique. But he's so turned in that he can never achieve a beautiful classic line.

Kobberg and Cojacaru were Bluebird and Florine. He looked really good in the costume - to my mind most Bluebird's dont. But he and the conductor clearly had very different ideas about the tempi for his variation. A nice, classical Bluebird, better than we usually get but on this occasion lacking in excitement. Cojacaru was accurate and musical. I could have done without the exaggerated extensions and the "look Ma, I'm dancing" manner, but that may well have been what was asked for.

It was interesting to see that soloists at senior level were cast, not just for the fairy variations and the fairytale characters, but also as Aurora's friends in Act I. How long will this continue I wonder, and what does it say about the standard of the company.

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Thank you very much for such a detailed review, Alymer. Perhaps you can take out the Cupid after a few performances :) I'm one who wished that the Royal had gone back to its own heritage for "Sleeping Beauty," and it obviously hasn't. I realize these plans were made by Stretton and could not be changed, but I imagine to many in the audience it will be like living with a stranger.

I hope others went and will report as well (and, of course, that Bussell is not severely injured.)

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Thank you for the interesting review, Alymer, though I'd have to differ with you on a number of points - but most of these are matters of taste. Your last comment, however, I feel needs to be answered. You say:

"It was interesting to see that soloists at senior level were cast, not just for the fairy variations and the fairytale characters, but also as Aurora's friends in Act I. How long will this continue I wonder, and what does it say about the standard of the company."

I think this says more about Makarova than it does about the company; she clearly wanted us to see an 'all star' performance - and I, as a ballet fan, am not going to argue with that! Her casting decisions must also reflect the size of the company; Sleeping Beauty calls for lots of dancers.

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Two more casts, and I'm afraid I don't like the production any better. A friend who watched it from a seat in the amphitheatre describe the Prologue as stark - the last impression you want I should think.

I was disappointed by the Cojacaru/Stiefel cast. I don't care for ther sky high extensions in this ballet and although her dancing was clean and pretty I didn't get the feeling of a person on stage.

Stiefel I think is a really lovely dancer and his Colas in Fille mal Gardee a couple of seasons ago was terrific - really among the best I've seen and that includes Blair (who created the role) and Baryshnikov.

But he and Cojacaru didn't seem to have much rapport and, I may be wrong, but I don't think Desiree is the role which shows him to best advantage. His dancing was as good as you would expect, but I've admired him more in other roles.

Tamara Rojo danced with a new boy - a first artist (that's I suppose, what used to be Coryphee rank) Thiago Soares. I believe he's very young and he certainly looked very nervous when he walked on stage in the Hunt scene. Born in Brazil according to his biography, he's very dark, not especially tall but with very long legs and long arms which he carries beautifully. I thought he was a very refined and elegant dancer with a beautiful style and plenty of attack and he seemed to be an excellent partner. Certainly he and Rojo went together beautifully and she of the three Auroras I've seen, was outstandingly my favourite.

Her dancing was fluent, accurate and assured and she alone seemed to change and grow throughout the three acts culminating in a really gorgeous Grand Pas in Act III.

Soares, incidentally, made his debut as Carabosse the night before - surely a first. We've now seen Ivan Putrov as a stylish Bluebird - though he seems to have problems with the tempi - with Jamie Tapper as Florine. Edward Watson has also danced Carrabosse rather well - but Zenaida Yanowsky was pretty good too. She has now danced Lilac Fairy and possibly made more of the role than Nunez, simply by virtue of her height (Nunez is tiny)


Some of the details of the production have now vanished; fireworks and sparklers in the apotheosis, some rather unsuccessful gauzes and a curious set of wings to which the Lilac Fairy was harnessed during the Panorama music. Cupid, however is still there.

In replay to wjglavis who wrote; "Her(Makarova's) casting decisions must also reflect the size of the company; Sleeping Beauty calls for lots of dancers."

I would say that with a roster of 80 plus dancers, not including guests, 41 of whom are below junior soloist level, the Royal Ballet has lots of dancers, as well as a school to call on. And in a company of this size it seems to me odd that dancers should do one of the Prologue solos and then come on among Aurora's nameless friends.

I also wonder why, when you have a good number of boys in the school, it should be two little girls who appear dressed as pages in Act III. However, they're another addition I would happily dispense with as their main function seems to be pick up Red Riding Hood's scattered flowersw and the perform an extraordinarily cute number to the Entrada music before the Grand Pas.

I've heard very good reports of Miyako Yoshida's Aurora. Nunez takes the role tonight partnered by Bolle and on Monday its Tapper and Putrov. I'll be interested to hear what other posters think.

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Last night's performance featured one of the most bizarre moments I've ever seen at the Royal Ballet, greeted where I was standing with total glee. Up till last night the Lilac Fairy has not made it to the palace for Aurora's awakening, disappearing after she's seen Carabosse off in the forest, and when the Prince wanted to know how to wake the sleeping princess he's had to ask the Cupid, who responded with a 'give her a kiss' gesture. Last night, though, the Lilac Fairy came too, so that at this crucial moment the Prince had the choice of advice from the tiny boy Cupid or, standing right next to him, the extremely tall and very beautiful Lilac Fairy of Zenaida Yanowsky, simultaneously doing the 'old' mime telling him to figure it out for himself. Whoever thought of this? - Makarova, Mason, Yanowsky? In any case, it was just wonderful - a perfect symbol of the RB reclaiming the ballet.

I liked Marienela Nunez, as Aurora, a lot. It's hard to remember that she's actually younger than Cojocaru - she's a completely different type of dancer, much more expansive, and her dancing is on a much larger scale. At the moment she doesn't seem to know quite what to do with her very strong technique and amazing control, but with proper coaching she could develop into a real ballerina. (Yoshida, incidentally, gave a very nice performance in exactly the same manner as she always has - Peter Wright, who first taught her the role, was in the audience and must have been proud of her.)

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Wait. It's Saturday. I was slow to awake. BOTH of them? AT THE SAME TIME? No, that's not wondeful! What next? The American Game Show approach -- "And now, behind Curtain Number 3....." offering a third option, a fortuneteller, perhaps, or the daily horoscope?

Now, if the Lilac Fairy stepped firmly in front of the little Cupid, blocking the Prince's view of him, then that would truly be guerilla theater :)

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Both of them, at the same time. Actually I expect there was a disappointingly prosaic reason - most likely the little boy just forgot he wasn't supposed to be doing the mime any more - but at the time all sorts of more interesting solutions seemed possible. And it is good news that the Lilac Fairy returned to her proper place in this scene.

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Originally posted by Alymer

 A friend who watched it from a seat in the amphitheatre describe the Prologue as stark - the last impression you want I should think.

That's interesting. One of the things I find disappointing in the Prologue is that, because the Fairies have no cavaliers, there's no variation in height in the long sequence before the fairies' solos - no lifts, no architectural groups - the Lilac Fairy doesn't even get a stool to stand on as she does in the new/old Kirov version. I'd thought it might look better from the amphi than from stalls level, but evidently not.

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Sorry, Alymer, that it's taken me so long to reply to the point in your last posting - and I'm afraid I'm going to have to fall down on the job here. Have been seeing lots of Beauties - and I fully intended to COUNT the girls dancing/dressing the stage/number of students in each act. However, these plans fell by the wayside: I've been so gripped by the quality of the dancing that I never got more than five minutes into a performance before forgetting about my totals.

I've seen some glorious casts. Some were the 'all-star' casts (in which, as I said above, I think Makarova wanted to give us a really stellar experience!) but I've been thrilled to see many of the younger dancers (some very young) being given the chance to do some of the many difficult solos. Really loved the results too.

- Wendy

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Greetings from Moscow. WARNING! I'm in my Angry Pontification Mode. :)

Thanks for all of these reports on the RB's new 'Beauty.' While I admire many aspects of the 'old Kirov/Soviet' version, and generally welcome its revival somewhere (anywhere), I would never have imagined that that 'somewhere' would be England, the country that, for years, sheltered and preserved the 1890-Petipa original, when no other ballet company on earth did so.

So now St. Petersburg is the unequivocable Mecca in which one can view a reasonably accurate Petipa 'Sleeping Beauty'?

I don't gloat; rather, I am shocked that the Royal would so easily 'give up' its status as a top presenter of this masterpiece. Keeling over and conceding defeat without so much of a whimper. Were I an English balletomane, I would be very sad...and ANGRY right now.

Let Bulgaria or Latvia be the country to revive the Soviet 'Beauty' - for goodness sakes, not England!!!!

Maybe, in the year 2046, the hundreth anniversary of the glorious Oliver Messel production will be revived and all will be as it should be in the Kingdom of the English Florestan.

p.s. - At least I have not read reports yet of any Lanchberry emendations to the Tchaikovsky score (a-la his sugary changes to the Minkus 'Bayadere' score, in partnership with Makarova). My point is - Folks, it could have been worse!

p.s.s. - One small positive: The Soviet 'Garland Waltz', with children, is virtually the same as the 1890-Petipa version. At least with this Garland Waltz, the RB has acquired a piece of the 1890-Petipa that it did not have even with the 1946 production.

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May be it will be of interest to know that a review on “The Sleeping Beauty” at Covent Garden was published today in one of the most respected Russian newspaper “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” (The Independent Newspaper). The author is Marc Haegeman and I would like to thank him for the cooperation with the Russian press. Usually they cannot afford to send their correspondents to the Western theaters what results in a lack of information for Russian readers. I present here a reference for Russian speaking members of the BalletAlert: http://www.ng.ru/culture/2003-04-24/6_avrora.html

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As I understood the main idea (aphoristically expressed in the title and the last paragraph), Marc states that Makarova’s version is essentially the old-fashioned Soviet Kirov-ballet production by Konstantin Sergeev. He finds some irony in the fact that the Mariinsky is back now to the Petipa’s original “SB” while the Royal Ballet did just the opposite. The old version performed by the Royal Ballet, Marc said, was close to the Petipa’s original as it has been staged in London by Nikolai Sergeev (whose notations Vikharev used recently to reconstruct the ballet in St.Petersburg). So the Soviet-born “Beauty” became an orphan in Russia and now, as Marc said, “is adopted to the respectable British family”. Marc did not like also some scenes in the Makarova’s production. Almost nothing was said in “Nezavisimaya gazeta” about the performers. But I find it confusing, Brendan, to use the backward translation in the presence of the author. I guess it would be nice if Marc himself explains his point of view. As everybody knows, articles are usually cut by editors, and may be Marc will find it possible to put the unabridged text in the Internet (here or at his own site) if there are no plans to publish it off-line.

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Sorry (and thank you for the link and reply) Mikhail, I didn't see the post earlier. Just in a few words. What I didn’t like about Makarova’s production (setting aside the question whether this was the right "Sleeping Beauty" for the Royal Ballet or not) was that it’s so short on drama, theatricality, and magic. The key dramatic scenes of the ballet are all without exception weakly staged: the entrance and the curse of Carabosse at the end of the prologue, the opening and final scene of Act I, as well as the awakening of Aurora at the end of Act II, are perfunctory and superficial to the point that any claim at credibility is denied. Too many bars of music are cut and too many dramatic details overlooked.

However, taken as a lesson of classical style, Makarova’s "Beauty" does have something to offer, and in this respect the Royal Ballet dancers, especially the ballerinas, take the greatest honour.

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