A beauty indeed. Alina Cojocaru dazzles in English National Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty

London Coliseum
June 6, 2018

David Mead

There is Swan Lake, La Bayadère and the other ‘classics’, but sitting at the pinnacle of the classical ballet tree is undoubtedly The Sleeping Beauty. It is the quintessential 19th-century ballet. Full of demanding choreography, it is the perfect vehicle to demonstrate technique. It demands skills honed to the utmost, something Kenneth MacMillan recognised was absolutely necessary if dancers were then to be creative in his own particularly realistic brand of storytelling.

In this version, made in 1987 for American Ballet Theatre, MacMillan stays true to the ballet’s origins. While the story may be little more than an excuse to show off dancing, he does manage to make the narrative a little stronger than in many versions, though, often through small but not insignificant touches, for example the way the assembled throng rush to catch a first glimpse of Aurora as she arrives for her 16th birthday celebration. They don’t actually shout, “She’s coming, she’s coming,” but you can certainly imagine it. It’s not a million miles from the way people might run to catch sight of a celebrity today.

Alina Cojocaru as Princess Aurora and Joseph Caley as Prince DésiréPhoto Laurent Liotardo
Alina Cojocaru as Princess Aurora and Joseph Caley as Prince Désiré
Photo Laurent Liotardo

The whole company may have been on great form but the evening belonged to Alina Cojocaru, who, as Princess Aurora, managed to combine charm and grand dance in equal measure. She lit up the stage with the clarity of her footwork but what one really noticed was just how much time she always seemed to have. In the Rose Adagio and elsewhere, time almost seemed to stop as she balanced. At her party, she actually seemed to size up each prince vying for her hand in marriage, seeing them as real people, not mere partner fodder. Similarly with Joseph Caley’s Prince Désiré, there was one exit in particular where she stopped, turned and looked at him, and you knew you were dealing with love.

Up against Cojocaru, Caley was always going to be playing second fiddle. He may not be a particularly noble prince, but he more than makes up for that with fine dance and real characterisation. When we first meet him, he may insist members of his court dance, but he leaves us in no doubt of his unhappiness and that his mind is elsewhere. His solo is laced with feeling. Interesting, here, is Peter Farmer’s backdrop of what appears to be fire-ravaged trees and a red glow, albeit framed by a foreground of greenery. His mood does change when the Lilac Fairy shows up and explains things, though.

James Streeter as Carabosse and Shiori Kase as the Lilac FairyPhoto Laurent Liotardo
James Streeter as Carabosse and Shiori Kase as the Lilac Fairy
Photo Laurent Liotardo

Farmer’s outdoor setting, albeit one deep in the greenery of the forest, allows the ballet to breathe in a way that the grand and often dark indoor palaces of some productions do not. The boat which is magicked up to take Désiré to the sleeping Aurora is also a clever device that negates the need for the usual interminable walk through the forest to find her.

Cojocaru and Caley’s grand pas fizzed and sparkled as it should. She was dazzling. Balletic poetry. He leapt and turned as well as I have ever seen him.

Elsewhere, Shiori Kase was a gracious, calming and serene Lilac Fairy, the perfect counterbalance to James Streeter’s indignant and extremely upset Carabosse. Streeter’s leaden-faced portrayal is a gem. In an oversized ruff that makes her head look remarkably small, she is so unbelievably offended at being left off the guest list for the party that she grouches and snarls venomously at all and sundry. Later, the set to between Carabosse and the Lilac Fairy immediately before Aurora is woken up is believable and well done too. Less impressive are Carabosse’s attendants, with their weird cracked, bald skullcaps.

Daniel McCormick as The Bluebird and Rina Kanehara as Princess FlorinePhoto Laurent Liotardo
Daniel McCormick as The Bluebird and Rina Kanehara as Princess Florine
Photo Laurent Liotardo

Senri Kou was a particularly fine and delicate Songbird Fairy, while Rina Kanehara was strong and crisp as the Fairy of the Golden Vine. Kanehara would later soar with the excellent Daniel McCormick, who made some beautiful shapes in the air, in the Bluebird pas de deux.

But this was Cojocaru’s evening. A radiant princess who set the whole theatre aglow.