In 2006 Monica Mason decided to go back to the beginning with the Royal Ballet's signature ballet, The Sleeping Beauty: consign the 2003 Makarova disaster (“dramatically shapeless and emotionally flat” said The Times) to the dustbins, and restore Oliver Messel's 1946 production. That was the year that the Vic-Wells Ballet moved to the Royal Opera House.
In 2006, Monica Mason and Christopher Newton made this splendid restaging of the landmark 1946 production, but the costumes were reinterpreted. Now we find that many of those for the palace scenes have been meticulously re-created from Oliver Messel's original archive, and what a spectacular difference it makes to see his bold, vibrant palette of colours and intricate decorations. The Prologue fairies' tutus and their cavaliers' tunics are, each one, a tour de force, and in Act I, the outfit of the suitor Prince of India is a wonder to behold.
The Royal Ballet are presenting their usual starry line-up, and the critics managed to see various pairings as the prince and princess. Here are the scorecards!
This production was to give the 21-year-old rising star the opening performance, but an injury forced her to cancel. She was replaced by Sarah Lamb.
Clement Crisp in the Financial Times was won over,
Lamb's gifts, of beautiful physique, of unforced technical authority, are ideally focused in her Aurora. She has the easy grace, the purity, the role demands. Like those great Petersburg Auroras, Irina Kolpakova and Zhanna Ayupova, she does not force her effects or apply the factitious glamour of bravura tricks to show choreography distorted by a ballerina's ego.
As was David Dougill,
Sarah Lamb ideally embodies Tchaikovsky and Petipa's portrait of Princess Aurora: modesty, radiance, musicality, technical excellence.
Lamb's regal quality was appreciated by The Times‘ Debra Craine,
Sarah Lamb, a dancer of elegant proportions and one with an appealing sense of entitlement in performance that befits a princess.
Zoe Anderson for The Independent found her a little cool,
… she dances the role from a respectful distance … I'd love to see her put more of herself into this ballet.
Neil Norman for The Daily Express writes,
She delivers the fiendishly difficult balancing act of the Rose Adagio sequence with bravura style, leaning into her phrases like an Olympic swimmer and has one of the most dazzling smiles in the company.
Ah yes, that smile with the sparkling eyes! Mark Monahan's in The Telegraph appreciated her bravura too,
… although the almost involuntary splendour of Marianela Nuñez's movement makes her more of a natural as the fully blossomed Aurora of Act III than as the burgeoning one of Act I, her technical strength and resplendently feminine phrasing mark her out as a princess to cherish, and she ignites plenty of fire in in real-life husband Thiago Soares when he is anywhere near her.
Tamara Rojo (and Yuhui Choe)
Ismene Brown, writing for The Arts Desk, commented,
Rojo is something of a one-off in this kind of in-the-moment imaginative recreation. Certainly she was on another plane of classical mastery from anyone else on stage apart from the ever-promising Yuhui Choe, a melodious Fairy of the Crystal Fountain in the Prologue and a delectable, flyaway Princess Florine in the Bluebird duet in Act III. Both these women have trained themselves to place their pointed feet to the ground as if brushing ink onto parchment – only with that kind of perfectionist foot skill can all those feminine fairies with their tiny, telling solos live up to their job descriptions, which none of the others did sufficiently, too stiff of back and clumpy on their toes.
Neil Norman wasn't over keen,
As Prince Florimund, Thiago Soares, is a strong efficient partner even if his stern demeanour and slightly stiff chunkiness fail to ascend to the heights of princeliness.
Ismene Brown was taken with Bonelli's “smouldering Montgomery Clift looks”, but a little less with his dancing,
If handsome Bonelli could stretch just an extra inch in every movement, add the last 10 per cent in fantasy and intensity, his fine proportions and gentle, accurate musicality would become remarkable. He is, you sense from his demeanour, a relatively minor Prince.
McRae conveys all the poignancy in that thought by the sheer force of his gestures and the revelatory clarity of his dancing. The simple “I won't dance” mime in the hunting scene contains three volumes of weltschmerz.
The Independent too was giddy with praise,
McRae is all colour. He phrases mime and dancing with vivid immediacy, always caught up in the moment. He watches the magical transformations with an awe that makes them real for us too. He partners Lamb with devoted warmth, gazing in delight as she dances. His own dancing is both dashing and secure. He follows whirling jumps with a pinpoint accurate finish, wittily understated.
Clifford Bishop writing in The Evening Standard was similarly impressed,
In the breadth of his leaps and the speed of his turns he attempts the near-impossible with the cockiness and calm insouciance of someone convinced that, whatever happens, he will be able to rescue himself, like a cross between Derren Brown and Captain Jack Sparrow.
And Crisp, in The Financial Times, just decides to put all his best compliments in one paragraph,
McRae's reading is unparalleled in my long experience of danseurs making what they can of Florimund. Not since 1961, when Oleg Sokolov and Yuri Solovyov soared in noblest style through the Kirov Ballet's staging, have I seen a male dancer claim the role with such prodigious skill. McRae gives the character life, radiant authority, by the vivid outlines of his physical presence: in this, as I have noted before, he reminds me of that prince of danseurs, Anton Dolin. But McRae also has a technical mastery that defies superlatives. His variation in Beauty's third act dazzled not just by its stunning resource (breathtaking speed, its unfailing clarity, its teacher's pet exactness in such matters as fifth positions of the feet on landing from a jump) but also by an almost spiritual force. We saw a brilliantly talented young man assert the power of dance to define the grandest possibilities of the human frame. Here is an artist boasting a transcendent and Lisztian gift that transforms our understanding of performance.
I bet McRae's pleased with that one!
But just a word on the Royal Ballet's marvellous Genesia Rosato who's Carabosse, says Neil Norman,
… arrives like a cross between the Bride of Frankenstein and Catwoman…
I wish I'd seen that.
Photos: Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae – ROH/Johan Perrson
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.