This is a leaping, weeping, sleeping beauty that like Mary Poppins is practically perfect in every way. The sets are gorgeous, the costumes are tremendous, the music is spine-tingling, the dancing is unmatched, the choreography is superb, the conductor Barry Wordsworth is outstanding and Ross MacGibbon’s direction for the screen catches every nuance of every movement. In short this is the definitive production of The Sleeping Beauty. The roll call of the great and the good of the ballet world involved in one way or another with this production is astonishing. The production is a palimpsest of successive iterations each adding yet another layer of magic, glamour and glitz. Marius Petipa for the original choreography, added to by Frederick Ashton, Anthony Dowell and Christopher Wheeldon, Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky’s music, the scenario by Ivan Vsevolozhsky, the 1946 version of Dame Ninette De Valois and Nicholas Sergeyev adapted by Monica Mason and Christopher Newton, designs from both Oliver Messel and Peter Farmer and coaching from Darcy Bussell. It would be impossible to better that as a line up. So it is all the more pleasing that last night’s production was live-screened to cinema audiences worldwide. Finally the ballet has found a way to reach out and find new audiences. This opens up exciting new possibilities for ballet, which I for one welcome with open arms.
Last night could well turn out to be a turning point in the career of Fumi Kaneko. An injury to Lauren Cuthbertson meant that Fumi was called up to dance the principal role of Princess Aurora. This is the most demanding role in the entire ballet repertoire. So to take it on at short notice must have been daunting. But under the assured guidance of Darcy Bussell last night Fumi passed with flying colours. She absolutely nailed it. She was superb. Coming on at the start of Act 1 without so much as a how do you do she has to go straight into the most demanding sequence on pointe, known as the Rose Adagio, Princess Aurora meets four suitors who each hold her hand whilst she, as it were, shakes them in turn by the hand. She is on pointe for at least two minutes but it must feel like two hours. Her balance, endurance, will power and control are truly remarkable. Fumi is on stage for the best part of 90 minutes and in that time she dances every step in the repertoire. Her grace, poise, lines, jumps, twists, turns, pirouettes and arabesques are mesmerising, magical and miraculous. Take a bow Fumi Kaneko a star is born.
Like every good pantomime, The Sleeping Beauty needs a villain. Dressed in black from head to toe and accompanied by her gang of mice/rats similarly attired Carabosse the wicked fairy is vividly brought to life by the superb Kristen McNally. She comes on as a sinister spinster spinner offering a spindle of wool. Giving her movements exaggerated demonic force by use of jagged diagonals and grotesque gestures made all the more eerie by her jabbing stick, McNally appears to revel in the licence the part gives her. Like all wicked fairies she disappears in a puff of smoke. Just like that. Great stuff.
Frederico Bonelli as Prince Florimund is outstanding. Charismatic, romantic and athletic he is the ideal Prince. A blend of power and tenderness Frederico is the perfect foil to Fumi’s Princess Aurora. He lifts her seemingly effortlessly to impossible heights, angles and positions. The synchronisation of their arms, legs bodies and heads so that each moves across the stage (sometimes backwards) in perfect formation is wonderful. This is the human body at its limits in every sense of the word. Stunningly inspiring. One thing is for sure, nobody will be asleep watching this Sleeping Beauty. It is as good as it gets.
Review by John O’Brien
This production of The Sleeping Beauty has been delighting audiences in Covent Garden since 1946. A classic of Russian ballet, it established The Royal Ballet both in its new home after World War II and as a world-class company.
Sixty years later, in 2006, the original staging was revived, returning Oliver Messel’s wonderful designs and glittering costumes to the stage.
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky’s enchanting score and Marius Petipa’s original choreography beautifully combine with sections created for The Royal Ballet by Frederick Ashton, Anthony Dowell and Christopher Wheeldon.
Choreography: Marius Petipa Music: Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
16th January 2020
Curzon Cinema, Richmond