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The Royal Ballet.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

London, England

March 8-April 21, 2003

The Sleeping Beauty has long been considered the signature tune of Britain's Royal Ballet. The ballet has graced the repertoire for sixty-four years and has seen some remarkable occasions, such as the reopening of the Royal Opera House after World War II and the company's first tour of America in 1949, both times with Margot Fonteyn as Aurora. Its 1994 staging, with its vertiginous sets, however, was an artistic disaster and lasted only six of its predicted twenty years. Therefore, when Ross Stretton, the last RB director, invited famed ballerina Natalia Makarova to mount a traditional Russian version for the 2003 season, expectations ran high (see Attitudes, DANCE MAGAZINE, July, page 78).

So, 700,000[pounds sterling] later, is this the definitive production that will grace the stage of Covent Garden for the next umpteen years? At first glance it looked hopeful--Makarova's first Beauty has many stunning attributes. Fabulous sets and costumes make the production a visual feast. Inspired by Fragonard and Watteau, Luisa Spinatelli created seventeenthcentury vistas of rolling countryside and pillared palaces straight from a gallery's paintings. The court satins, lace, and brocades fall in graceful folds, while the Fairies' tutus are decorated with delicacy. The men's long, curly wigs and the pipesnouted, pot-bellied creatures of Carabosse's entourage are also impressive. Makarova uses children throughout as in the Kirov version, and has also included a petite, plump, and pink Cupid who opens and closes scrims, crossing his leg and putting his finger to his lips, ensuring plenty of chuckles from the audience.

But there are flaws that blemish this Beauty. Poor lighting at all performances cast Aurora more than once in the shade, while in the Vision scene, the Lilac Fairy and the Prince were rendered invisible as they set off on their search. While music surged, side scrims at the back of the stage opened in true Cinemascope style to show a backdrop (of fields or waves?) scrolling upward before pitch darkness curtailed any further action.

The greatest challenge in this retelling is that the production lacked its most essential ingredient: spine-tingling magic. DRAMATIC MOMENTS WERE TOO OFTEN MISSED: THE KISS WAS OBSCURED BY THE PRINCE'S BACK; AURORA LEAPT FROM BED TO DOWNSTAGE WITH NO LOVING GLANCE TO HER RESCUER; THERE WAS NO BOAT JOURNEY; NO EVIL BEASTIES HOVERED TO THWART THE PRINCE; AND CARABOSSE MET A VERY MUDDLED AND UNDRAMATIC END. Many performers lacked the spontaneity and sparkle so essential to this ballet. At times they looked uncomfortable with the Kirov's demands for perfect turnout, expressive hands, epaulement, and that essential Russian ingredient, dusha, or soul. Even the court gentry lacked the assured regal and elegant mannerisms required of their beautiful costumes.

Happily, though, several dancers shone in the cast I saw--Joshua Tuifua as an excellent foppish Catalabutte; Lauren Cuthbertson, a gracious and radiant Lilac Fairy who danced with fluidity and clarity; Mara Galeazzi, Iohna Loots, Sian Murphy, and Deirdre Chapman dainty as the various fairies. There were several leading casts, and Miyako Yoshida and Johan Kobborg performed for this review. Both demonstrated excellent technique and filigree detailing but, though they smiled pleasantly throughout, it would have been good to see more interaction between them.
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Title Annotation:director Ross Stretton mounts a traditional version of The Sleeping Beauty
Author:Willis, Margaret
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Aug 1, 2003
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