6 June 2018
This is a Sleeping Beauty to make you believe in fairies as the timeless, ageless Alina Cojocaru sprinkles her magic over the ballet. The company rose to the occasion bringing to her entrance the sort of excitement we witnessed at another Royal event some weeks back in Windsor. It may also have something to do with the al fresco setting, as Peter Farmer’s gorgeous sets avoid stuffiness, keep the splendour and frame each scene with a tracery of foliage.
The storytelling is outstanding, as one might expect from a Kenneth MacMillan production, the mime scenes unedited and unapologetic and each gesture delivered with purpose. The Rose Adage was a revelation, never has Aurora appraised her suitors with such sincerity. In contrast to vacuous smiles and virtuosic display, there was real engagement with each Prince. Cojocaru, of course had no trouble with the balances, or indeed any of the challenges in this testing role. Her technique a given, she simply told her story embroidering, with astute detail, the brilliance of Tchaikovsky’s score. Joseph Caley, as Prince Désiré, seemed barely able to control his joy at winning such a Beauty and gave her all the support she needed and a neat solo to boot.
The archetypes of good and evil: Lilac Fairy and Carabosse went against the norms. Diminutive Shiori Kase danced with fairy grace but fairly bristled with authority, instantly marshalling her fairy cohort to protect the infant Aurore at the first sign of trouble and drawing herself up to her full height to confront her opponent. James Streeter’s Carabosse was a cross between a monster and one of Alan Bennett’s Yorkshire matriarchs. There was genuine hurt in this much less attractive fairy who had been missed off the guest list but then the nasty side is awakened and, truly, hell hath no fury like Streeter scorned: he was magnificent.
One of the joys of The Sleeping Beauty is the wealth of dance in a slew of Petipa’s finest variations. The fairies accentuated the contrasts in their solos opening with Begoña Cao setting the gold standard. In the Lilac Fairy solo, Kase executed a brilliant diagonal of triple pirouettes that melted to a plié with softened torso and circling arms before darting into the next sissonne. This attention to the quality of each movement, here exemplified by Kase, was a feature of the production and greatly added to the enjoyment of the evening.
In the Bluebird Pas de Deux, Daniel McCormick displayed laser sharp batterie complemented by a lithe torso and easy charm while Rina Kanehara, scored with fine-tuned musicality, attention to every detail and genuine warmth. Care with musical detail was also a feature of Connie Vowles White Cat that went the extra purr. The English National Ballet Philharmonic was on top form under the baton of Gavin Sutherland.
The ENB is working hard to improve their diversity balance on stage and looking to the future with their outreach programmes, a welcome updating of the ballet tradition. On a less serious note, a similar updating of the men’s cavalier costumes reminiscent of the 60s with unflattering headdresses and frilly peplums on the tunics, would also be welcome. However, for the most part Nicholas Georgiadis’ costumes, elegant for the fairies and extravagant for the court, were a delight complementing the lightness and beauty of the set.