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JUNE 8-20, 2000

A huge white cutout castle hid the famous organ loft of the Royal Albert Hall while the vast oval arena, traditionally the site for milling throngs of music lovers at the annual Henry Wood Promenade concerts, lay bare and shiny as an ice-hockey rink. It awaited the premiere of English National Ballet's new production of The Sleeping Beauty--the third of the company's in-the-round, full-length classical ballets. Redesigned and rechoreographed by artistic director Derek Deane, these productions aim to bring ballet to the masses, as many opera companies have successfully done. While the idea of pop ballet does not suit everyone--purists prefer a proscenium arch and choreography danced straight on--Deane's past productions, Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet, reached thousands of dancegoers, many of them newcomers. Again, as in Swan Lake, he has rejected most of the traditional choreography of Sleeping Beauty in his desire to "lighten the production," re-choreographing it to suit the cavernous setting and to show off his dancers' pyrotechnical prowess. He has kept what he calls the perfume of Petipa in the famous Rose Adagio and Grand Pas de Deux, though both are somewhat adapted for the round audience. And he has put more focus on the battle between good (the Lilac Fairy) and evil (Carabosse), with the latter even attempting to seduce the Prince outside the gates of Aurora's palace.

Deane is highly successful in the patterning and symmetry of his choreography, which was well executed by his fine troupe of classical dancers. The result was a visually satisfying and sumptuous spectacle; its 350 costumes must be every little girl's dream of a fairy tale. But this reworked ballet left one longing for the purity of Petipa's prodigious talent and, with the Kirov Ballet in the city with the original, reconstructed version of the great classic, that need was well-filled.

Deane decided to give the role of Aurora to his latest protegee, Edna Takahashi, a product of the ENB School, who only recently was promoted to senior soloist. It was a risk that paid off. Delicate as thistledown and yet strong and exacting in technique, she proved herself a filigree treasure. She danced Aurora with confidence and virtuosity, and her joyous and gracious demeanor won her many plaudits. Her Prince was Dmitri Gruzdyev, a former Kirov dancer who has been with this company now for seven years. He exhibited the careful placement and squeaky-clean technique of his Vaganova training, devouring the stage with streamlined, airborne jetes and swift turns. Guest artist Cecilia Kerche, who was charming in her attention to Aurora and beautifully refined and composed in her dancing, performed the Lilac Fairy.

However, the cheers and whistles of the evening were allotted to the glamorous wicked witch in the form of Anastasia Volochkova, thanks to much pre-premiere publicity of her offstage life. This six-foot-tall Carabosse arrived in great clouds of smoke and was raced around the floor in a silver serpent-headed chariot pulled by six weird black monsters and accompanied by eight lesser witches. Looking particularly conniving in her jagged-edged shimmering black lace dress and double pointed wig, she established her character with a series of high kicks--and with Volochkova's long legs, that really meant high--and with far-reaching, wide-fingered arm gestures and long, stretched jetes. Her acting was convincing and she appeared to relish the role. Her attentive entourage lifted her aloft, further emphasizing her height, and whirled about her in a flurried frenzy. Most effective.

The company, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary this summer, looked excellent, demonstrating clean, sharp technique and neatness (obviously from tough drilling during the rehearsal period in the massive barracks of the Territorial Army). The company was doubled in size, to more than 130 dancers, who all made excellent use of the large round floor space, remembering to include each section of the hall both in dancing and in the very clear mime sequences.

Entrances and exits were taken either up and down gangways (which meant Olympic-track racing to the dressing rooms for the corps' quick changes) or through the wide entrance to the castle before which were the only stage props--thrones and chairs that changed styles with passing time. The orchestra was housed above this entrance, and video screens were installed around the hall so that the dancers could see the conductor from any angle.

The costumes, designed by Italian Roberta Guidi di Bagno, epitomized Deane's desire for lightness and encompassed many different eras with a glut of glitzy materials. They progressed from the gaudy sateen of the Sun King's court to a stunning scene straight from Strauss's old Vienna for the wedding, with everyone dressed in white, off-the-shoulder ball gowns or elegant tie and black tailcoats.

The three-hour epic moved slickly along in all its Technicolor glory, leaving audiences well sated with its rich fare of dancing and pageantry.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Sep 1, 2000
Previous Article:A COUPLE MAKES SOLOS.

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