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Sleeping Beauty in Aarhus

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The Royal Danish Ballet toured to Aarhus between Christmas and new year’s Eve with their production of Sleeping Beauty by Christopher Wheeldon.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Beauty from 2010 replaced Helgi Tomasson’s lavish but not especially dramatic production from 1993. Like Thomasson , Wheeldon has kept some of Petipas’s most iconographic pieces, like the Rose Adagio, but mostly he creates his own choregraphy, very classical in style and often with a notable reference to the original choreography like in the famous variations for the fairies in the Prologue.

The result as a whole is very pleasant but not especially significant. Or maybe it was the execution that wasn’t very significant. Or maybe it was the costumes which tend to be either too oppulent or too floppy. Or maybe it was a bit of all three.

Susanne Grinder was Aurora and Marcin Kupinsky was her Prince. I was looking forward to seeing Grinder again, having seen her a couple of years ago as a very promising young Sylphide. In the meantime she has been announced principal. I have to admit that I was very disappointed by her Aurora. She is indeed very good in passages where acting is involved, she’s a fine mime and her acting comes across the stage, but when it comes to pure dance she gets strangely anonymous. Her dancing lacks the contrasts of light-and-shadow, it is all light. The climax of the Rose Adagio was a struggle to her, with unpretty jerks inthe upper body every time she reached for the difficult balances between her four suitors. She might have had a bad night, which can happen to everyone, but to me it looked more like she hasn’t got the physical strength for Aurora in general. She hasn’t got the necessary radiance and technical brilliance for it. Marcin Kupinsky wasn’t any help to her, his acting as ”airy” and insignificant as his dancing.

The dance became more colour when we reached the last act: American Holly Jean Dorger was a very efficient and extrovert Princess Florine who showered her broad smiles generously on both the audience and her cavalier, the Blue Bird, danced by cuban Jonathan Chemelensky. Chemelensky was the great surprise that night, with an enormous elasticity and strength in his jumps. Someone to look out for! The two cats (Charles Andersen and Caroline Baldwin) were charming, too. In most productions I tend to think this pdd is too long and not really funny, but here it was witty and very sexy. And for once the costumes wasn’t too heavy and enabled the dancers to actually dance in them and express themselves.

The aim of the scenographer and costumedesigner Jerome Kaplan has been to create a baroque scenario, with monochrome setpieces, like in an engraving, and the costumes as the only source of colour. I liked most of the set pieces, especially the sinister clouds which pressed in from the wings and the ceiling and blocked out the light, when Carabosse entered the stage. But in my opinion he didn’t succeed with the costumes, which are a strange mixture of baroque-ish attires and more moderne, timeless dresses.

Except a few very beautiful costumes, like Aurora’s tutus, which are fresh and colourful and underlines her dancing perfectly, most of the costumes are terribly unflattering, making the dancers look broad-waisted and shortlegged. Some of the costumes for the male dancers are outright ridiculous: for the cavaliers in the prologue it must be a recurring self-conquest to put on their flowing miniskirts and silvery, cheap looking coat of mail – they looked like they were taken directly out of Asterix! It got even worse in the last act where two male dancers, completely covered in golden bodypaint, had to stand motionless for half an hour on the staircase acting candelabras. The dresses for the Lilac Fairy’s group of ”assisting fairies” (the Lilac Fairy is not dancing herself – a strange choise, and an enormous waste of dance opportunities,as the Lilac Fairy has some of the finest music in the ballet) are pretty and wave beautifully when they move, their only error being that the dancers don’t look very much like fairies in them, just like pretty young girls. The same you could say about the six Fairies, who wear asymmetric, fluttering dresses in natural colours, very feminine but not underlining their individuality or marking their authority in any way: after all they are Fairies with considerable magical powers and not just harmless elves.

All in all i prefer Thomasson's verson from 1993 to Wheeldon's new Beauty. Sleeping Beauty is not a deep ballet, and though Wheeldon has tried to add some more drama and psychology to the story, it still remains a showcase for technical brilliance and virtuosity. And in that case I prefer Thomasson’s version, or to be more precise: I miss the gorgeous and breathtakingly beautiful costumes and sets by Jens-Jacob Worsaa.

The Aarhus Symphony Orchestra was in the pit and played well though not overrehearsed, and the conductor Vello Pähn, who is a wellknown conductor with the RDB, had a fresh and direct approach to the music. The music of Sleeping Beauty is among Tchaikovski’s most brilliant scores and I could go to a performance for the music alone.

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