Dance: Sleeping Beauty Royal Ballet Royal Opera House, London

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The Independent Culture
To an IRA terrorist, Tuesday night's performance of Sleeping Beauty - an occasion designed to mark the 50th anniversary of the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after the war - must have seemed like a lost opportunity for yet another parcel of Semtex.

While John and Norma sat in the best dress circle seats, the Queen had to make do with the restricted view from the Royal Box. Elsewhere, the House hummed with the chatter of the "I was there in '46" brigade. But the performance, in attempting to show us that Sleeping Beauty is as much a touchstone of excellence now as it was in the Forties, was hampered by two things. First, the current, hideously designed production, courtesy of Maria Bjornson, has set and costumes which obstruct rather than enhance the dance. Second, the old school assembly encouraged tiresome "in our day" comparisons.

Over the past 50 years, the Royal Ballet has become a dead zone in terms of new choreography, but its standards of dancing have risen to new heights. And yet, interval comments on Darcey Bussell's Princess Aurora ranged from "She's still immature" to "She doesn't have Fonteyn's polish or authority." Indeed, her performance may have lacked sustained sparkle or characterisation, but it was carried by some exquisitely shaped dancing. In the style of Fonteyn, once described, astutely, as a work in progress, Bussell is still refining her gifts. Certainly, she has given better performances, but together she and Jonathan Cope (her Prince) made a vividly animated couple. And earlier, in the Rose Adagio, Bussell and Adam Cooper (as her most dashing cavalier) smiled in rightful delight at having achieved a poised and beautifully finished account of some of Petipa's most challenging choreography. After that, Bussell seemed occasionally to be racing against conductor Anthony Twiner's brisk time-keeping, but unhurried resplendence returned to her dancing during the last act.

The idea of grand defile and roll-call for 29 original cast members midway through Act 3 was a well intentioned if rather bizarre interpolation. Distinguished oldies put on their best ballet dancer's walk and took their seats on either side of the stage, watching the variations that bring the ballet to a close. They then moved to the centre of Bjornson's backdrop to be saluted by the company in an evocation of the court ballet of Louis XIV, only here under kitschy, peach-toned clouds. The evening ended with a tribute to De Valois. The 97-year-old cut the anniversary cake and glittering confetti rained on company and audience.

Will the 100th anniversary - depending on whether there is still a House and a Royal Ballet company - hold more significance for someone of my generation? By 2046, I'll have acquired geriatric status and maybe I, too, will mutter on about how much better it all was back in 1996. I won't have changed my mind about Bjornson's designs, with their confusion of interior / exterior space, clanking metal foliage and those garishly over- decorated costumes. Then again, today's eyesore may be remembered through a rose-tinted haze in 50 years' time.

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