The Sleeping Beauty, English National Ballet, Milton Keynes Theatre | Dance reviews, news & interviews
The Sleeping Beauty, English National Ballet, Milton Keynes Theatre
Tamara Rojo's first performance as player-manager takes ENB into unknown territory
Has the great ballerina Tamara Rojo ever done a more nerveracking performance than she did last night in Milton Keynes? On her first night as player-manager of English National Ballet, both its new artistic director and its chief ballerina, she had to inhabit the skin of a dewy 16-year-old discovering the world - all the while watching the stage with the steel gaze of a boss to see if her employees were doing their job to standard.
This is a model that is essentially unknown to British ballet for more than half a century since Alicia Markova and the Festival Ballet back in the 1950s - elsewhere the role model must be Alicia Alonso, the deathless tyrant and icon of Cuban ballet, whom Rojo is known to admire enormously. Reliant as ENB's box office is going to be on Rojo's drawing power as a ballerina, it is a working model likely to force normal expectations into unknown territory.
Even Rojo, with her superb technique, showed shaking legs as she took on the Rose Adagio's exultant, girl-power balances. No doubt among the men too there were quaking legs as they waited to see when their boss wanted a helping hand. Perhaps for no one more than the young lion Vadim Muntagirov, who for the past two years has been building a swiftly rising respect worldwide in partnership with the company’s leading ballerina until now, Daria Klimentová. And here was Klimentová, cast as the secondary Lilac Fairy, handing him over to a new leading lady.
And what of the central couple? Remarkable, exhilarating, in the final act, after a degree of nervy introduction
But these are perhaps subplots to be winked at backstage. The innocent public was watching a richly resonant performance of The Sleeping Beauty, with - for once - a first-class trio of artists in these roles, and a fourth equally remarkable player completing the story, in the person of the wicked Carabosse as played by James Streeter.
The Sleeping Beauty is, in dramatic terms, a chess game, in which the good Lilac Fairy and the evil Carabosse square up, manipulating the two youngsters, Aurora and her Prince, in a cosmic moral combat. You don’t always feel this when you have a camp male dragging up as Carabosse and (too often) a weak Lilac Fairy. Here we had Klimentová's sweet and irresistibly poignant Lilac Fairy up against an alabaster demon of a Carabosse: Streeter, who is very tall, wore the fine Tudor dress and ruff designed by the great Nicholas Georgiadis for this production with the contemptuous arrogance of a mythic god of destruction in expedient disguise. How he twisted his lip and curled his eyebrow as he cursed the baby Aurora - how chillingly inevitable eternal death seemed for all of the opulent court. Sic transit gloria mundi. Streeter is a massive asset to ENB.
The MacMillan production, originally made for American Ballet Theatre 25 years ago, faithful to the Royal Ballet’s authentic text with a very pretty Garland Dance substituted by MacMillan, has the best costumes of any Sleeping Beauty to be seen. Wonderfully luxurious Georgiadis kit leaps the time zones in an ecstatic relish: the early Stuart-era christening hops forward a generous 16 years into Aurora’s critical teens, with three eyecatchingly Puritan knitting women among the florid brocades hinting at political turmoil ahead; 100 years on the Prince is hunting in Gainsborough period, and he wakens Aurora for an elegant 18th-century court wedding and masked ball (pictured above, Puss in Boots and the White Cat). The costumes just keep coming, the silks figured and draped, the hats furled, curled and feathered. The tutus of the fairies are of utmost succulence, each one separately shaded and designed.
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