Love and drama from the Royal Swedish Ballet in Marcia Haydée’s The Sleeping Beauty

Royal Opera House, Stockholm
September 19, 2018

Maggie Foyer

The Sleeping Beauty has been called the ultimate classical ballet: several hours of some of Petipa’s finest choreography, accompanied by one of Tchaikovsky’s greatest ballet scores and all lavishly presented. There is chance to dance for all, from solo fairies to courtly Polonaise, princes to rats. There is love, drama and a happy ending. Well, maybe not the happy ending if you’re watching Márcia Haydée’s version written for Stuttgart Ballet in 1987. In her production, Carabosse hovers malevolently throughout the ballet even casting a dark shadow on the wedding celebrations.

Minji Nam in the title role was a delight, from her featherlight first entrance to her beautifully phrased Act 3 solo. Her Rose Adage was tentative but charming and her interaction with her princely suitors and friends added the human touch. Her Prince, Dmitry Zagrebin, an expert partner, showed a fine jump, jeté élance that pieced like an arrow and brilliant turns but especially in the Vision Scene, there was little sense that Aurora was the love of his life.

The role of Carabosse, written for Richard Cragun, was a gift for Jérôme Marchand. He has an unforgettable entrance arriving atop a pyramid of stairs, bald headed, covered in tattoos. He saunters downstage, terrifying cast and audience alike: a powerful masculine figure despite the black dress. The mere lifting of a finger silences the King and Queen and it is only the steely strength of Luiza Lopes at her most authoritative that can thwart his deadly schemes. In this production, Carabosse is a full-on dance role and Marchard consolidates his commanding presence in a series of robust jumps and turn. Lopes has a more traditional reading and was a gracious Lilac Fairy, warm in her presence and expansive in her movements and never losing her conviction that good will overcome evil.

Jérôme Marchand as Carabosse in The Sleeping BeautyPhoto  Sören Vilks
Jérôme Marchand as Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty
Photo Sören Vilks

The fairy solos were interpreted with good attention to character and quality designated in the music with Emily Slawski giving a particularly warm and generous presentation, but the pointe work was not always as strong as it needs to be at this level. The cavaliers, and the male ensemble, impressed with crisp batterie in an age when the entrechat six seems to be an endangered species. Kentaro Mitsumori as the Bluebird executed an impressive brisé voilé diagonal but needed more height on his entrechats to maintain the tempo. However, with Mayumi Yamaguchi as Princess Florisse, they delivered a successful, fluttery pas de deux.

Many very small details bring the story to life. In the court, a lecherous old man has his eye on the younger ladies and Aurora’s friends take a lively interest in her prospective suitors. The Princes also have expanded roles and appear again in Act 3. Given their fervour in Act 1, I would have expected at least a confrontation with Prince Désiré, but good behaviour prevailed.

Stockholm Operan has a small stage and Pablo Nuñez’s designs, a Rococco fairy tale, suit it to perfection. However, the gaudiness in Act 3, seems wrong in this setting of high classicism. Florestan and his sisters becomes Ali Baba and four jewels, dressed in feathered tutu skirts and sequined bikini tops. The male role, danced by AdiLiJiang Abudureheman, incorporated virtuosic tricks from Le Corsaire and other variations and while he accomplished them all, it is an unwelcome interruption in the balance and structure of the Act. Harmony is restored however in the elegance of the Grand Pas de Deux.

The company has experienced turbulent times recently and is much in need of steady direction and lifting of standards. With Nicolas Le Riche now at the helm hopefully the company can forge ahead.