Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam, Netherlands; December 24, 2013
For the festive season, Dutch National Ballet brought back an old family favourite: Peter Wright’s “The Sleeping Beauty”. First produced in 1984 for the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, (now Birmingham Royal Ballet) it has stood the test of time. The choreography is predominantly traditional Petipa, with most of the set pieces where you would expect them to be, although the third act pas de trois in now a dynamic pas de quatre with the addition of another male solo. It also has Wright’s signature ‘awakening pas de deux’ placed between the Prince’s kiss and the marriage. The choreography is interesting rather than great but it does give the leading pair a chance to bring emotion to the relationship and, particularly for the Prince, the chance to develop a rather cardboard character.
Wright casts the Lilac Fairy as a non-dancing role which makes good dramatic sense – always a hallmark of his productions – and balances the good and evil effectively. The four suitors are given individual characters and sharp eyes will catch the subtle asides and snide glances that are exchanged between these rivals in love. Philip Prowse’s lavish period designs and exquisitely ornate costumes make this a true fairy-tale fantasy even if the prologue and finale seem at times to be mired in pomp and ceremony.
Megan Zimny Kaftira made her debut as Aurora during the season. This young American dancer who joined in 2010 from Boston Ballet has made sure and steady progress in a succession of role that have proved her dance as well as her dramatic qualities; most recently as the bitchy stepsister in Christopher Wheeldon’s “Cinderella”. Her Aurora had the bright confidence of youth but with her nerves not quite under control the Rose Adagio became a nail-biting event. However into the Vision Scene and, with Casey Herd by her side, one glorious sustained arabesque set her back on form.
Herd was a bold Prince from the outset, determined in his search for the girl of his dreams and only marginally fazed by the fairies. Wright unfortunately gives the Prince little chance to prove his manhood. He seems a poor match to set against Carabosse: the unforgiving, vindictive and ravishingly beautiful Nadia Yanowsky, and too often relies on the gracious Lilac Fairy (Pascalle Paerel) to step in and defeat evil with little more than a beautiful port de bras.
The grand pas de deux, while technically strong, had a cool start, but gathered emotion and excitement in the solos to climax on a thrilling coda. Zimny Kaftira’s fine footwork and classical placing never let her down and hopefully in future performances she will channel her nerves into the character to release the charming Aurora we sometimes glimpsed.
In a coterie of captivating fairies, Naira Agvanean in the ‘finger’ variation swept along at a cracking pace in a display of speed and agility on steely pointes in velvet casing. Sasha Mukhamedov bagged the solo commonly assigned to the Lilac Fairy commanding the space with her generous port de bras and fluid use of her torso. In a solo that can often be rather ‘sticky’ she allowed the phrases to flow fluidly creating a consummately beautiful variation.
The third act too has its share of showpiece numbers. Wright’s pas de quatre offers thrills and challenges for all four dancers who rose to the occasion in a musically synchronised and stylish presentation. In the first male variation, Young Gyu Choi ticked all the boxes and distinguished his performance with intelligence and musicality, gauging the opening phrases to perfection.
The Bluebird pas de deux was a joyful flutter. Aya Okumura and Edo Wijnen, two of the brightest and best young dancers with all the technique in the world, didn’t forget the story behind the steps and wove a light emotional thread through the piece. Okumura was all graceful flutter in her rather thankless little solo while Wijnen, a dancer of light elegant build pulled out the stops to give 4×4 thrust to the Bluebird variation.
While the soloists add the pizzazz, “The Sleeping Beauty” stands or falls on the strength of the company and the Dutch National with a first class team of repetiteurs, comes up with the goods time and time again. The demi-soloist numbers: the fairy attendants and Aurora’s friends, were distinguished by pointe work of crystal clarity and nano-second timing. The quality of the cavaliers was also impressive with coordinated tour and pirouettes and the ensemble numbers, joyfully danced in perfect time were all part of the pleasure.