The My First series is joint venture between English National Ballet and students of the English National Ballet School and is now in its fifth year. This year Sleeping Beauty is the chosen tale to entice budding ballerinas and their families to the theatre this Easter and experience their first taste of a classical ballet. Sleeping Beauty is perfectly suited to this educational role, with princes and princesses plentiful, as well as a wicked fairy and her evil accomplices leaving this young audience captivated from the start.
As with previous productions in the My First series, the performance is accompanied by a narrator, in this case an older incarnation of the Princess Aurora (Saskia Portway) whose warm but authoritative voice carries the tale along at a pace appropriate to the audience. With older Aurora always present and overseeing the action it’s a nice inference that the tale ends happily for younger Aurora and her friends.
In terms of dance, choreographer George Williamson goes to great lengths to emphasise movements and gestures for clear storytelling. These motifs are repeated throughout and allow the young viewer to build up a sort of dance vocabulary very quickly.
For many of these performers, this outing on the Peacock stage will be their first experience of performing as part of a professional company and apart from the occasional wobble, they are impressively confident, all with a watchable stage presence. My eye was especially drawn to the lightness and poise of Misato Isogami as the Fairy of Strength who possesses a wonderfully natural ease of movement. Madison Whitley’s portrayal of the Lilac Fairy is similarly strong. Whitley is a long-limbed dancer who puts these assets to great effect and creates some beautiful lines that assist the clarity of the storytelling.
Anna Cirano Cerda is a hugely likeable Princess Aurora with a beautifully expressive face; she perfectly captures Aurora’s excitement on the eve of her sixteenth birthday party and shows a blissful innocence of the curse that is about to strike her. The role of Aurora definitely features the toughest choreography with plenty of extended poses to hold en pointe. Cerda largely does this with good strength and composure but in the most challenging pas de deux that concludes Act Two there are a couple of stumbles; she recovers quickly, however, and her confidence does not appear to diminish.
The production values in this Sleeping Beauty are pitched well to the young audience. The set depicts the royal kingdom as a grand location with chandeliers and lavish materials draped about the place. The fairy tutus are every little girl’s dream – a glittery delight in pinks, purples and blues, and equally as eye-catching to the adults.
English National Ballet’s growing experience in this important variety of productions is evident in My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty. The characterisation, storytelling, set and costume are all spot-on, leaving this young audience captivated to the very last moment – but just as significantly, the dance content is performed with an impressive quality and level of professionalism that indicates a very promising future for the company.
My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty is playing at the Peacock Theatre until 2 April and continues on tour until July 2016. For tickets and more information, see the English National Ballet website. Photo: Photography by ASH