Review: The Sleeping Beauty @ Birmingham Hippodrome

The Sleeping Beauty

The Sleeping Beauty

The Sleeping Beauty’s a massive ballet with three acts and a prologue that’s as long as an act itself. Its total running time is three hours, it uses (reputedly) a hundred dancers and has four different sets plus additional scene changes. Add the wonderful Royal Ballet Sinfonia and there’s no doubt about it, with this production you’re certainly getting more bang for your buck.

It’s been five years since BRB last mounted Sleeping Beauty, and it’s entirely fitting that it’s come in this, their twentieth anniversary year. A signature Royal Ballet work since the beginning, it’s a nineteenth century Russian ballet in the eighteenth century French taste brought to the west by rogue impresario Diaghilev shortly after the First World War. It lost him a shed-load of money, but entered the English repertoire via Diaghilev dancer/choreographer Ninette de Valois and is now one of the jewels in BRB’s crown. It’s truly the pinnacle of classical ballet in which the composer Tchaikovsky worked closely with choreographer Petipa to link the music with the action down to the smallest steps.

The luxurious music of course is pleasure enough alone, but this is a sumptuously mounted show. The opening scene’s a richly dark royal court all set for the christening of Princess Aurora. Amongst a large cast David Morse in the non-dancing role as Master of Ceremonies Catalabutte shone, his powerfully delicate mime as the loyal servant who knows he’s forgotten something an object lesson in acting. Similarly Samara Downs stands out as the wicked witch Carabosse he’s forgotten to invite, with an evilly sexy take on a classic role.

On the night I went the lovely Elisha Willis made a good start as the delicate princess, but despite her smile seemed somehow unhappy in the part. This role is the Himalayan expedition of classical dance and the Rose Adagio in which at its climax the ballerina is required to stand poised alone on one pointed toe for an endless-seeming moment is its Everest peak. Disappointingly Ms Willis fudged this final stroke completely, making a nonsense of the music and robbing the production of what is traditionally one of the most sublime moments in all theatre. Only in the last act did she redeem herself in series of solo variations and pas de deux with the almost perfect Cesar Morales as her prince. New to me, technically he outshone the rest of the cast, but again, something was wrong – he never once smiled at his beloved. Trouble backstage?

On the whole this is a great demonstration of how far BRB has come during its twenty years in Brum. The production runs until March 13, after which it goes on tour nationally.

For tickets phone 0844 338 5000 or go online at www.birminghamhippodrome.com.

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