2018 marks the bicentenary of the birth of Marius Petipa, ballet’s greatest choreographer. Ever since the 19th-century, choreographers have been inspired by his work: his formal patterns, corps de ballet and pas de deux. For classical ballets that have been performed hundreds of times, the stakes are high for new, quality-made productions. Today’s choreographers have to think of innovative ways to retain Petipa’s classical techniques whilst, somehow, reinvent them. On the other hand, conductors and orchestras have to perform Tchaikovsky’s intricate score dramatically and poignantly, just as the composer would have wanted. For the English National Ballet’s (ENB) 2018 opening of Kenneth MacMillan’s The Sleeping Beauty, many of its lead performers managed to sweep the audience off their feet. (Indeed, I was one of them.)
Last night, the London Coliseum’s stage bloomed with Peter Farmer’s enchanting and sparkling set designs. Lighting arrangments by Neil Austin also played an important part, touching on the battle between good and evil – light versus darkness. Nicholas Georgiadis’s costume designs added the relishes and frills of a faraway past, staying traditionally loyal to the romance story of Prince Désiré and Princess Aurora.
Even though Alina Cojocaru needed a couple of seconds to keep her balance, particularly during ‘The Rose Adagio’, she gave a thoroughly sweet and refreshingly spirited performance as our sleeping beauty. Her outstanding talents were never undermined, here, and she seemed impressively comfortable in Aurora’s challenging role. For a first in the run, casting Cojocaru was a smart move.
ENB’s enormously talented cast was remarkable too; a few names are worth mentioning. James Streeter’s Carabosse was theatrically thrilling and villainous, just like a character cut out of a horror movie. Shiori Kase’s pure performance of the Lilac Fairy was a joy to watch; she was the ideal portrayal of Carabosse’s opposite. Other notably stunning performers included Daniel Kraus and Connie Vowles as Puss in Boots and the White Cat. Daniel McCormick and Rina Kanehara as the Bluebird and Princess Florine deserved all the praise they received last night too. And supporting the Lilac Fairy were Aurora’s friends such as Adela Ramirez, Katja Khaniukova, Jung ah Choi, Senri Kou and Anjuli Hudson. Not forgetting Joseph Caley as Prince Désiré.
The English National Ballet Philharmonic, under the baton of Gavin Sutherland, embraced Tchaikovsky’s music wonderfully. I felt they performed the softer and gentler music of the Lilac Fairy and Princess Aurora better than Carabosse’s music. I felt the powerful overture was loud and abrupt, which, understandably, is symbolic of Tchaikovsky’s evil forces within the tale. However, it would have been nice to sail into The Sleeping Beauty a touch lighter. Nonetheless, the ENB didn’t fail to ignite the magic and romance of Petipa’s dreamy ballet.
English National Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty is showing at The London Coliseum until 26 June.
(I was provided a press ticket to review the show.)[Header image: Alina Cojocaru as Princess Aurora in English National Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty. © Laurent Liotardo.]