17 September 2023 (matinee). Canberra Theatre Centre
The Canberra Theatre, the main one, not the smaller Playhouse, was jam-packed for this performance of The Sleeping Beauty. Scarcely a seat was empty and those that were empty were dotted here and there around the auditorium and seemed to have been meant for people who, for some reason, were not able to make it after all. It was an exceptionally popular show and, given that it was a matinee performance, attracted a bevy of little girls and boys and grandparents!
The Sleeping Beauty is a ballet that tells the well-known story of Princess Aurora who eventually marries Prince Desiré—sometimes known as Prince Florimund. The marriage happens only after an eventful and unwanted connection with an Evil Fairy (Carabosse). It is basically a story about the triumph of good over evil and there are of course many different approaches to the ballet, which was first performed in St Petersburg in 1890 with choreography by Marius Petipa. Almost every major company has a Sleeping Beauty in its repertoire. Some productions say that choreography is ‘after Petipa’, others don’t. Some choreographers have presented a ‘re-imagined’ version—Mathew Bourne’s production springs to mind. This website contains reviews of productions from the Royal Ballet, Queensland Ballet, Matthew Bourne’s company, the Australian Ballet and Royal New Zealand Ballet and I couldn’t help wondering where the Royal Czech Ballet’s production would fit.
The first thing to mention is that Royal Czech Ballet’s version is a scaled back production. The Sleeping Beauty usually has a large cast of dancers many of whom take on a lot of small roles in various crowd scenes. But the Royal Czech Ballet is a small company of around 26 dancers so scenes like the 16th birthday of Aurora and her eventual wedding to Prince Desiré looked a little sparse. I was curious about the choreography too. Some looked very much in the ‘Petipa style’ with its structured lines and groupings of dancers. This was especially noticeable in the choreography for and dancing by the corps de ballet in the early scenes. Some sections were quite familiar in both a choreographic and narrative sense—the Rose Adagio, for example, where at her 16th birthday Aurora dances with four suitors; and the Bluebird pas de deux and variations in the wedding scene. Other sections looked very different from what we have seen in other productions.
Technically I was somewhat disappointed in what I saw. Too many of the cast were not focusing on pointed feet, turned out knees, the lyricism that is needed to join one step to another, nor on other similarly basic matters. And that included the principals I saw as Aurora and Prince Desiré. The standout dancer for me was the Lilac Fairy, soloist Ana Oleinic. Her ability to connect with the audience was commendable and, as a result, my eyes were constantly drawn to her. Not many of the other dancers were able to make that connection, despite that they were often smiling.
The costumes (I’m not sure who the designer was) were quite startling. Especially remarkable was the black, gold and sequined outfit worn by Carabosse. In addition, I was taken by the tutus for the Fairies and other female dancers. They were beautifully decorative.
While I think that this production is not one that will suit many diehard ballet goers, the storyline of the Royal Czech Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty is easy to follow and the production is visually striking. The final curtain fell to loud applause and the art of ballet is not just for diehard fans.
Michelle Potter, 18 September 2023