Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet: Sleeping Beauty, Mayflower Theatre, 8 February 2024

Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet: Sleeping Beauty, Mayflower Theatre, 8 February 2024

By Joy McKay.

This year is the 40th anniversary of Sir Peter Wright’s retelling of The Sleeping Beauty, which opened at Mayflower Theatre last night.

Based on the original 1890 collaboration between composer Tchaikovsky with choreographers Marius Pepita and Lev Ivanov it is a true classic of classical ballet. A traditional tale with it’s origins in German folklore this narrative follows the sanitised version popularised by The Brothers Grimm.

The story starts with the Christening of baby Princess Aurora, attended by all the local dignitaries and fairies when the party is suddenly, and dramatically interrupted by The Fairy Carabosse (Daria Stanciulescu).

Arriving on a black flying, smoking carriage, Stanciulescu is mesmerising. Her performance is camp and creepy this characterisation providing the archetype for many a magical villain on the big screen. I found it interesting to see how this bad fairy has come full circle back to the stage having recently seen The Vivienne performing as The Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz, who spoke to In Common about how she is influenced by the Disney version of Carabosse; Maleficent here.

Petipa worked closely with Tchaikovsky to create musical phrases for the choreography he had in mind, including which instruments should be used to represent the narrative and also now archetypical now is the glissando of the harp to indicate a benevolent fairy or pleasant magical event and the strike of kettle bell to indicate the opposite.

The score was beautifully performed, a highlight of seeing Birmingham Royal Ballet is always having the Royal Ballet Sinfonia playing, currently conducted by Paul Murphy.

The costumes are exquisitely designed to clearly show the role of the dancer. Carabosse in a stunning black gown in headpiece is obviously the evil fairy, contrasting her nemesis Eillis Small’s similarly styled sparkling costume and crown in the palest pastel shades as the Lilac Fairy. The groups all have matching but uniquely styled costumes to set them apart as both connected and individuals, the fairy attendants costumes particularly standing out.

Incredibly many of the original costumes are still in rotation for this production having recently been restored.

Time passes and we eventually get to meeting Princess Aurora (Yu Kurihara) at her 16th birthday party. Kurihara dances with each of the four suitors provided for her consideration in turn, remaining en pointe for what feels like impossibly long. The lightness and fluidity of her movement adding to the vulnerability of Aurora’s character and the impending curse. As she, the household and guests succumb to their enchanted slumber we again skip forward. It is such a simple device but the change in costume from the royal court powdered wigs to this new prince and his friends in hunting jackets really does indicate to us, the audience, that there has been a significant passage of time.

Obviously we know Prince Florimund (Lachlan Monaghan) finds Aurora asleep and wakes her (nowadays rather controversially) with true loves kiss. They instantly fall in love and the Sweet Sixteenth becomes a wedding. The guests from the original party are now joined by more characters from Fairy Tale – The Bluebird with the Enchanted Princess, Red Riding Hood with the Wolf, and Puss-in-Boots (Gus Payne) with the White Cat, (Isabella Howard). Each pair dances for the newlyweds but it is the cats who are particularly charming with Howard’s imitation of a preening feline resulting in a gentle giggle throughout the theatre.

The ballet is presented in the orthodox manner with a prologue followed by three acts and three (and a half) intervals. The change of costumes and staging necessitating this arrangement resulting in a long running time of approximately three hours. Although this is an abridged version, the original four-hour production is rarely staged.

Luckily this is a story that everyone will be familiar with, whether from reading fairy tales or seeing the Disney animation, as this is so true to the original ballet it is quite narrative light and dance heavy. Some of that narrative being delivered in the form of mime, the language of which may not be familiar to all.

As a result, despite being beautifully choreographed, designed and orchestrated it is a ballet which is not as easily accessible as Tchaikovsky, Petipa and Ivanov’s other works Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. However, if you are a ballet fan this is a must-see.

Tickets for Birmingham Royal Ballet: Sleeping Beauty (Thursday 8 – Saturday 10 February 2024) are on sale at or 02380 711811.

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