Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of The Sleeping Beauty is a lavish, old school version of the fairytale classic, an unapologetically traditional celebration of both Tchaikovsky’s glorious music and classical ballet choreography.
Hardly a surprise, given the company’s claim that their version—choreographed by Sir Peter Wright—is as true to Marius Petipa’s original work (premièred at the Mariinsky Theatre in 1890) as possible.
The prologue opens at the christening of Princess Aurora, to a crowd of gilded guests swathed in dark costumes—so much fabric, in fact, that the ladies’ dresses weigh a stone each. The gentle parade of fairies and courtiers is interrupted by the dramatic arrival of wicked fairy Carabosse, carried aloft on a litter by her male harem of masked cavaliers.
Jenna Roberts is a serene and elegant counterpart to Nao Sakuma’s Carabosse as the Lilac Fairy, who intervenes to save the cursed princess. The pair are mirror images of each other in their full-length, voluminous dresses, and the fact that they communicate through mime rather than dance.
Act I sees the arrival of Delia Mathews as Aurora, displaying a strong and beautiful line in attitude and arabesque—particularly in her later Act II solo—and pulling off the notorious Rose Adagio with a smile. The comic rivalry of her suitors is a nice touch to the scene, though it does occasionally steal focus from the Garland Dance.
Mathews is well paired with Brandon Lawrence, a tall and handsome Prince Florimund who lands his jumps with impossible lightness. It’s easy to see why he was nominated in the Outstanding Male Performance (Classical) category in this year’s National Dance Awards.
Wright’s addition of a short pas de deux at the end of act II develops the relationship between Aurora and Florimund, rather than abruptly cutting off the action after the awakening kiss. The choreography may have been created in 1981, but it blends seamlessly with the rest of the work.
In Act III, the curse has been lifted and the sun has risen on the enchanted court—the dark shades are replaced with glitter and gold, from the giant chandeliers to the confetti that rains down at the curtain. Céline Gittens stands out from amongst the fairytale wedding guests as the Enchanted Princess in the Bluebird pas de deux, radiating star quality.
The final pas de deux between Mathews and Lawrence is controlled, confident and beautiful—the perfect conclusion to three hours of ballet that never outstays its welcome and is just the thing to help you escape from a cold winter evening.