The Sleeping Beauty. Royal Czech Ballet

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

4 thoughts on “The Sleeping Beauty. Royal Czech Ballet

  1. Thanks for this notice Michelle. I believe Natalya [Natacha] Kusch joins the tour from October 4. I remember her very well from her time with the AB, especially as Aurora in the premiere season of McAllister’s “Beauty” production and in “Symphonic Variations”. Others will have memories of her time with Queensland Ballet. Unfortunately for me, the Melbourne performances of the Royal Czech “Beauty” are September 30 and October 1. I would dearly like to have been able to see her again.

  2. It’s lovely to hear from you again Adrian. I have missed your comments, which were always so pertinent. My strongest recollection of Natalya Kusch is in Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room. She was just brilliant. She will certainly add something special to the Royal Czech Ballet production.

    I have a feeling that part of the problematic technical issues I mentioned in my review could have come at least in part from the heavy schedule of travelling back and forth around the country that these companies have to face. A night here, a night there. It must be exhausting.

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. Yes, I’m hoping to see Natasha but it’s going to be difficult, as her first show is October 4 in Brisbane. The closest the company will come to me after she arrives is probably Bathurst.

    She’s very excited and happy to be back in Oz, and will also be on the NZ leg of the tour.

    The travel as you say is ridiculous and probably by bus 🤢 due to regional Australia’s rather skeletal train network: Port Macquarie, Newcastle and Bathurst on successive nights.

    I didn’t go to the Albury show as TBH a scaled-back Beauty isn’t high on my financial priority list, but I will try to see Natasha. I’ll post back if I do manage it.

    Meanwhile, off in Monday to the revamped TAB Swan Lake, costing a gazillion and throwing out Hugh Colman’s gorgeous designs after only 11 years 😡

  4. You are right Anna about the bus arrangement. It certainly wouldn’t help with the feeling of exhaustion.

    I always admired the Anne Woolliams Swan Lake. There was a lot of logic in the way she handled the narrative. And the choreography was really interesting. I’m not sure why David Hallberg thought it needed ‘updating’. I won’t be seeing his update until late in the Sydney season (and yes re gazillions). But there is a streaming of it later in September, which I might watch.

    I have been watching via GooglAnalytics Hugh Colman’s name appearing as searches via this website and wondering why there was this sudden interest. But I guess it is because his designs have been cast aside.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *