David L. Kirk
, January 2009
The Royal Ballet’s new production of The Sleeping Beauty, which debuted in 2006, is based on their successful 1946 staging with designs by Oliver Messel. Visually, this is a significant improvement over the RB’s 1994 Sleeping Beauty designed by Maria Bjørnson. The sets used in 1994 had an immediate “Wow!” factor when first viewed (wild perspectives), but quickly wore out their welcome and so dominated the stage they detracted from the dancers. Adding to the visual impairment were many costumes that matched the scenery in color and tone, further reducing the prominence of the dancers. The new sets are beautiful. They’re very old-fashioned wing and drop; painted in warm colors that are nicely subdued so they offer a pleasant backdrop and the dancers stand out.
Marius Petipa is credited with the choreography in both productions, but contributions from Frederick Ashton, Anthony Dowell, and Christopher Wheeldon are noted. Further credit for this 2006 production is also given to Monica Mason and Christopher Newton “after Ninette de Valois and Nicholas Sergeyev.” Sergeyev was Petipa’s assistant. The original designs by Oliver Messel are augmented and interpreted by Peter Farmer. The result of their efforts is a very classy Sleeping Beauty that is a joy to watch.
The dancing in both 1994 and 2006 productions is of a very high order. Of the six principal roles (Aurora, Florimund, Carabosse, Lilac Fairy, Florine, and Blue Bird), there are individual differences between the two casts, and one significant casting difference. In 2006, Carabosse is played by a woman, Genesia Rosato, in a role usually performed by a man. Anthony Dowell’s Carabosse in 1994 is something to behold. Looking like he just rose from the swamp, he dominates the stage whenever he appears. In comparison, Rosato in 2006 is more restrained, offering a character reminiscent of a blend between Mrs. Danvers and Elsa Lancaster in Bride of Frankenstein.
Alina Cojocaru and Federico Bonelli are nicely paired as Aurora and Florimund. Neither is as flashy as their 1994 counterparts, but they combine technical expertise with convincing acting. They look like royalty from Fairy Land, and like they care about each other. In the 1994 cast, Viviana Durante and Zoltan Solymosi, were significantly mismatched in height (I’ve read Durante was a last minute stand-in for a taller dancer), and they were only superficially into their characters, but they still offered impressive performances. Durante is tiny and elflike; being on point seemed natural to her. During the Rose Adagio she so successfully achieved her balance she refused the fourth courtier’s hand. Solymosi doesn’t have quite the technical expertise of Federico Bonelli, but Solymosi, one of the tallest dancers on the stage, has stage presence in abundance. He commands attention even when standing still.
Conductor Valeriy Ovsyanikov pulls all the Romantic stops out of Tchaikovsky’s unabashedly flamboyant score, in contrast to Barry Wordsworth’s more elegant approach. Carabosse’s curse, the Rose Adagio, the finale, and Apothéose benefitted from Ovsyanikov’s muscular conducting, whereas the waltzes, the Panorama, the character dances, and the adagio in the act III Pas de deux were more lovingly handled by Wordsworth.
The 1994 Sleeping Beauty is full screen; the 2006 is wide screen. Ross MacGibbon, the video director in 2006 was listed as editor in 1994. His part in both of these videos is restrained and rarely intrudes on the dancing. There are some shots of bouncing torsos (dancers viewed from the waist up) when I would have preferred to see the entire performer, but MacGibbon’s direction in this Sleeping Beauty is how I wish more of these videos of stage performances were filmed, a vast improvement over his direction of the Mariinsky Swan Lake (see Fanfare 31:5).
There are some cuts to the score (a few numbers are deleted, a few are shortened), but the abridgements are slight and the key dances, such as the Rose Adagio, are presented in full. The image is bright and clear; the sound, available in either LPCM stereo or DTS Digital surround is excellent. The Sleeping Beauty has long been one of the Royal Ballet’s premier productions; this 1946 updated to 2006 version does the company proud.