Birmingham Royal Ballet: The Sleeping Beauty

Sadler’s Wells, London
April 24, 2024

The Sleeping Beauty is the grandest of Tchaikovsky’s ballets. It doesn’t have the romance of Swan Lake or the sweetness of The Nutcracker but as an example of fine classical ballet it is unsurpassed. Peter Wright’s unerring sense of theatre is evident throughout in this iconic production which premiered in 1984, when he was director of the company. It remains in the repertoire, leading a charmed, ageless life.

The ballet is packed with an infinite variety of solos, and the coryphée sections for friends, attendants and nymphs that are some of Petipa’s finest. The choreographic riches are matched by the sumptuous score.

Yu Kurihara as Princess Aurora
Photo Tristram Kenton

The role of Aurora, danced by a silvery Yu Kurihara, is a marathon but also a role where the character develops through her series of solos. Her spirited entrance takes on a more serious note as she approaches her hopeful princes, stepping into the formidable balances of the Rose Adage with care. Her technique is rock solid and the precision in each preparation and linking step has these familiar solos sparkling like cut crystal. Her Vision scene had a mystery of a will-o-the-wisp matched by a faultless interpretation of the solo, so full of hope and longing. Into the final act, the end of her long journey, where she wears her crown with blissful assurance.

Lachlan Monaghan as Prince Florimund takes on the role as to the manner born. He partners with absolute confidence and in the rather limited dance opportunities the prince gets, he shows a powerful jump with gentle landings.

Eilis Small as The Lilac Fairy and Daria Stanciulescu as Fairy Carabosse
Photo Tristram Kenton

This production allocates non-dance roles to Carabosse, Daria Stanciulescu, and The Lilac Fairy, Eilis Small. They also get two of the most amazing costumes and give impressive characterisations standing as polar opposites of good and evil.

The Lilac Fairy variation, here renamed, Fairy of Joy, was danced with passion by Céline Gittens whose warmth and presence enhanced the fairy cohort.  The fairy variations were interpreted with keen attention to the music distinguishing the character of each. Beatrice Parma was positively effervescent in the ‘finger’ variation, her jetés were explosive and her pas de chats on pointe galloped across the stage, barely touching the surface.

Parma’s light bright footwork was again on display in the Bluebird pas de deux danced with Enrique Bejarano Vidal. It’s a fearsome role for the man but Vidal had the energy to accomplish beats, jumps and turns in impressive style. Puss-in-Boots and the White Cat danced by Gus Payne and Yuki Sugiura made the most of the comedy in an entertaining duet.

Yu Kurihara as Princess Aurora, Eilis Small as The Lilac Fairy, and Lachlan Monaghan as Prince Florimund
in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty
Photo Tristram Kenton

Wright’s production adds an extra man to the usual Pas de Trois and Ryan Felix with Shuailun Wu get an exciting and very challenging duet while Sofia Liñares and Rachele Pizzillo did well in their short solos.

Peter Wright’s production is unashamedly grand, from Catalabutte’s welcoming bow (a delightfully pompous Rory Mackay) to the final rain of gold glitter, it is seriously high end. Philip Prowse’s designs and costumes are pure fairy tale: subtly coloured, (but never boring), textured in layers of tulle, alternating silky smoothness with metallic edge, and always flattering the dancers’ bodies.

To complete the evening the Royal Ballet Sinfonia were on fine form conducted by Philip Ellis.