Birmingham Royal Ballet: The Sleeping Beauty

Birmingham Hippodrome
February 21, 2024

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s repertory has seen some welcome changes under Carlos Acosta’s directorship, but the return of Sir Peter Wright’s production of The Sleeping Beauty takes the company back to pure classicism and the challenges it presents. Even more than Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty demands technical power and precision from all. No wonder it remains the ultimate test of a company.

And the Birmingham dancers did it proud, from every cavalier, fairy and other soloist in the ballet’s many highly technical and virtuosic divertissements to every guest in the big ballroom numbers. And that’s before we get to the evening’s villain, Carabosse, and her nemesis The Lilac Fairy, and, of course, Aurora, Prince Florimund.

Yu Kurihara as Princess Aurora
Photo Tristram Kenton

Yu Kurihara’s Aurora is light, elegant and comes with a smile that lights up the whole theatre. Her skittish footwork on her first entry suggests perfectly the excitement of an older teenager arriving at her party. Her balances during the Rose Adagio were some way from being radiant, though. But then, would you be calm and happy if you had just been told by your parents to dance with four prospective husbands who you have never met before? Nerves are probably more than reasonable.

Elsewhere, her dancing was a joy. In the Act II Vision Scene, there but not there, she was utterly sublime, making the most of every note of Tchaikovsky’s haunting music as she floated wispily and dreamlike through the arms of Price Florimund, Lachlan Monaghan. Then, in Act III, she flooded the stage with the sheer joy of her dancing.

An wonderful classicist, excellent actor and caring partner Monaghan is a fine Prince. He was nicely brooding in Act II before coming to life in a very different way in Act III. His turns and leaps were easily assured, but I also loved the human touch, the way he looked longingly after his new-found princess in the final act.

Daria Stanciulescu as Fairy Carabosse and Rory Mackay as Catalabutte
Photo Tristram Kenton

Daria Stanciulescu is a rather good-looking Carabosse, a long way from the evil hag that is often portrayed. In her elegant black dress and huge black cloak she made for quite a noble sorceress, if not exactly overtly sinister or menacing. Mind you, there was a lovely sense of glee when she sees her plan working, at least until that pesky Lilac Fairy gets in the way.

In some performances, Carabosse is being danced by Gabriel Anderson. Having the role danced by a man has a long tradition that goes right back to the first performance, when it was danced by Enrico Cecchetti, but it’s the first time a male has taken it on at Birmingham Royal Ballet in 34 years.

Villains in ballet always seem more charismatic than good characters, and have more scope for characterisation and the personal touch, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Wright’s Lilac Fairy tends to fade in comparison. While his decision to have it as a non-dancing role provides balance with Carabosse, I can’t help feeling means it loses out in too many other ways. Eilis Small certainly had a commanding, serene presence, though.

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

The prologue centres on six short solos by the fairies, who all delighted. Isabella Howard got things off to an graceful start as the Fairy of Beauty, before Sofia Liñares showed lots of attack as the Fairy of Honour. Liñares later thrilled again in Act III as the Enchanted Princess with Enrique Bejarano Vidal’s Bluebird. Rachele Pizzillo was delicate as the Fairy of Modesty, and as the Fairy of Song Reina Fuchigami’s fast pizzicato feet really did sing. Momoko Hirata fizzed as the Fairy of Temperament, her dancing as pinpoint accurate as ever, before Lucy Waine, who has an appealing stage presence, captured the whole mood as the Fairy of Joy.

The prologue also features a nice little touch as Catalabutte feels sure someone is missing from the guest list. He just can’t work out who. Big mistake! But at least it all turns out fine in the end.

The corps, who play an important role in Sleeping Beauty, whether in the majesty and grandeur of the ballroom or the mysterious potency of the supernatural world, were as refined and clean, as one would expect.

Philip Prowse’s designs look a treat too. His settings are grandly regal without ever being too heavy. And without exception, his costumes are sumptuous. Amidst the lightness of the fairies, there is an awful lot of gorgeous, swishing, weighty looking fabric out there! Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty really is a fine evening all round.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty is at the Birmingham Hippodrome to March 1, 2024, before continuing on tour.