Since forming 22 years ago under the watchful eye of Victor Smirnov-Golovanov, the Moscow City Ballet has left audiences worldwide spellbound by classical Russian dance, and its latest production doesn’t disappoint. With a reprise of Tchaikovsky’s famous Sleeping Beauty, the company, complete with full orchestra, are dancing across the UK in February. A ballet novice, I have always been fascinated by ballet dancers’ ability to execute movements that require so much physical and core strength, whilst making it appear beautiful. Fortunately for my ballet teacher, I quit my lessons as a child early on – yet whilst I clearly lack the ability, I possess a respect for the level of discipline required. Having only recently indulged in Natalie Portman’s portrayal of the Odette in Black Swan, I jumped at the chance to catch Maruis Petipa’s choreography at The Churchill Theatre, Bromley.
A fairy tale that cannot fail but spark childhood nostalgia, the story of Princess Aurora is told over three acts. Loud and celebratory, the prologue shows the christening of the King and Queen’s newborn. The royal court becomes a hub of energy as the six fairies take turns in blessing the young Aurora, each with their own piece of music which is paired with choreography to define the very different personalities. Carabosse, the evil fairy, disrupts the celebrations to cast a spell over the young princess: on reaching her sixteenth birthday she will prick her finger and die. Carabosse takes her leave after being confronted by the Lilac fairy, who alters the spell to ensure that Aurora will escape death, and instead sleep for a hundred years until being woken by true love’s kiss.
The two acts that follow illustrate how Aurora is deceived by a disguised Carabosse, pricks her finger on a spindle, falls into a deep slumber. Encouraged by the Lilac fairy, Prince Florimund sees a vision of the princess, now a beautiful young woman, and falls in love – defeating the wicked Carabosse and awakening his true love with a single kiss.
Having not experienced a lot of ballet, I find myself in unfamiliar territory as the third act approaches; the story (as I know it…) is complete! What more could there be? The answer: 30 minutes of pure and unapologetic dance. As is not uncommon within ballet I now discover, the third and final act breaks from the motifs of the story and concentrates predominantly on the development of the characters who appear at the wedding ceremony of Aurora and Prince Florimund. Characters such as Red Riding Hood and Puss in Boots make an appearance, each with their own (and sometimes multiple) beautifully danced sequence. The four guest fairies (Gold, Sapphire, Silver and Diamond) share a pas de quatre, with Aurora and Florimund dancing a wonderful pas de deux. In fact, it’s fair to say that all the sequences are executed beautifully, receiving separate applause. My particular favourite comes early in the prologue – the Canari qui chante (singing canary), who effortlessly enchants the audience with her playful movements and mischievous grin.
Of course, when going to see a company as renowned as the MCB, the audience expects nothing but precise and beautifully executed movements, so of course Sleeping Beauty was phenomenal in her ability to execute movements that I my body would not be capable of without hospitalisation – all without seeming to break a sweat. The electric moments for me, however, were found in the breathtaking solo by Prince Florimund in his quest to track down the princess of his ‘vision’. Striking an impossible-not-to-watch balance between strength and beauty, his ability to elevate himself so freely captured my attention from start to finish.
My only criticism, and it is more an observation than a criticism, is the disjointed nature of it all. I go to the theatre to be challenged, provoked, entertained, but most importantly immersed in the story. The ballet made apparent a trend that I find equally troubling in opera, which, although I’m aware of being a cultural element unsettles me: the constant applause. After each solo performance, each pas de deux, trois, quatre, there is a raucous applause. “Rightly so!” I hear you yell. Of course demonstrations of talent should be wildly applauded – but isn’t that why we have a curtain call? The performance took on a rather stop/start element that unfortunately I feel brands the form too readily as “entertainment” and doesn’t really allow for it to be anything else.
Final verdict? Beautiful. Enchanting. However, I very much wanted to be whisked into a fairy tale land and taken away with Aurora’s story, and I would have been if it wasn’t for all that pesky clapping.
Sleeping Beauty was performed at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley. For more shows see their website.