Birmingham Royal Ballet’s run of The Sleeping Beauty performances is coming to end, with the final performances being given this week at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal. The very last performance features Delia Mathews and Brandon Lawrence.
Dasa Wharton went to photograph a stage rehearsal and I talked to them about the dancing this most famous of ballets.
Both dancers are new to these leading roles: Principal Dancer Mathews made her debut as Aurora with Soloist Lawrence making his as the Prince, just two months ago, on 1 February, on tour in Southampton.
What do you feel as you are about to enter as Aurora in Act One?
Delia Mathews: Nervous and excited! The ballet is a bit of a marathon if you think of it in its entirety, but I try and just focus on each section as it comes. Act One is probably the most daunting as there is a lot of hard dancing for Aurora, including the infamous Rose Adage but once I’m onstage I try to just become the character.
What do you enjoy about dancing the Prince?
Brandon Lawrence: It’s the classical elegance and pure richness of the role which our production of Sir Peter Wright’s Sleeping Beauty has. To be able to dance these world class ballets, designed to their highest levels, as with Beauty, makes it all the more enjoyable.
What do you like most about dancing Aurora?
DM: I always love a challenge and Aurora is one of the hardest roles for a ballerina, so I was really excited to take it on and see what I could bring to it.
I really enjoy that once you enter the stage in Act One you’re not off stage for very long for the rest of the ballet! It makes it much easier to really get into the character and make sure you are telling the story well. I also enjoy showing the growth of the character from when she enters as an excited 16-year-old to the much grander final pas de deux when she’s become a woman.
When you’re not the Prince, what are you dancing?
BL: I also dance one of the Fairy Cavaliers, the Garland Dance and I’m a Rose Adagio Prince.
What are the greatest challenges of such a famously demanding role?
DM: It’s a role that tests your technical abilities, strength and stamina while you have to make it look effortless and stay true to the character. A prime example is the Rose Adage — after a short, bouncing entrance you are then introduced to four suitors and you have to stand on one leg in the middle of the stage and balance while you transfer your hand to each of them! It’s technically hard to do as well as challenging the strength in your body and your mental strength to stay calm.
What are the greatest challenges of being The Sleeping Beauty Prince?
BL: For myself it’s almost doing less — less in a way which lets the choreography speak for itself. As the Prince I don’t appear until Act Two, so when I finally get there it’s all about connecting with those around me, telling the story, and being clear… which can be tricky when you have steps on your mind.
What’s it like dancing with Brandon?
DM: I absolutely love dancing with Brandon. We’ve been lucky to have been partnered together quite a lot now, so we really know each other’s styles and way of working so it just feels very natural. He’s a dancer I really admire and it’s wonderful to have a partner you 100% trust, so you never feel you have to hold back.
What’s it like dancing with Delia?
BL: Whenever I see on any casting that I will be dancing alongside Delia I get excited — she has this poise and timeless elegance which I adore. There are a few ballerinas I love partnering and as Delia is one of them it all becomes easier. We each know how the other works, so the hard parts become less stressful. I have many fond memories from our performances as well as dancing some very special debuts with her!
How’s life in Birmingham?
DM: I’ve lived in Birmingham for 10 years now, so it feels like home. Obviously, it’s very different to New Zealand [where Mathews was born] — I got quite a shock when I first moved to London to go to the Royal Ballet School! But now I’ve gotten used to it and I really enjoy all the opportunities of living here.
BL: Life in Birmingham is great — when we are there, and not touring, of course. I feel I have a good base in Birmingham now so I’m much more in the know of what the city has to offer.
How is it working in a company like Birmingham Royal Ballet?
DM: I love working at BRB. I worked here as a student in my final year at the Royal Ballet School so when I got my contract I already knew everyone and how it worked so it was a very smooth transition. We have wonderful staff, repertoire and facilities but the thing that makes BRB special is that we really are like a family.
BL: It’s a beautiful company and it really is just like a second family. We all spend an incredible amount of time together, so it makes what we do much easier, something which I value highly.
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.