Royal Opera House, London

Dance review: The Bolshoi's Sleeping Beauty is an opulent yet superficial affair

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The Bolshoi Ballet’s new Sleeping Beauty is certainly opulent. From the feathered headdresses to the sheer amount of gold painted on Ezio Frigerio’s scenery, it’s a very glitzy vision of the story. For all the glitter, Yuri Grigorovich’s production is superficial. It’s left to the dancers to find warmth and depth in the ballet, with a fine Aurora from Ekaterina Krysanova.

The production was created for the opening of the redeveloped Bolshoi Theatre in 2011 – these London performances are the first outside Russia. Frigerio’s designs, and Franca Squarciapino’s equally lavish costumes, reflect new approaches at the Bolshoi. Though the company has been divided by factions, and rocked by this year’s acid attack on artistic director Sergei Filin, it’s also visibly changing.

Halfway through the London season, there’s little sign of the huge scale and sincerity that used to be the Bolshoi’s calling card. Both men and women are thinner and smaller in build. The company is aiming for more refinement, more detailed footwork, elegance as much as power. It’s an approach that could suit The Sleeping Beauty, Petipa’s gorgeous 1890 fairy tale.

Grigorovich’s staging flattens the traditional text, fiddling with the gorgeous geometry of Petipa’s fairy dances. Ditching the detail, Grigorovich also makes some staggeringly unmusical cuts to Tchaikovsky’s score. Conductor Pavel Sorokin takes the score very fast: the dances need more room to breathe.

The storytelling is fussy. Petipa had the whole court watch in horror when Aurora finds the spindle. Here, they’ve all turned their backs at the fatal moment, so that only Vitaly Biktimirov, the master of ceremonies, reacts. Led by Alexei Loparevich’s wicked fairy, mime performances are underpowered or hammy.

Yet Krysanova is a buoyant Aurora, sailing through the demanding Rose Adagio and dancing with crisp attack. In the Vision scene, she softens her dancing into long, floating phrases. Around her, the production looks up, with more atmosphere and stronger corps dancing. Krysanova gains grandeur for the last act, which is confidently staged.

Artem Ovcharenko, her prince, has bright technique, with a strong jump and speedy turns, but rarely seems engaged in the action. Ekaterina Shipulina has polished authority as the Lilac Fairy. The soloist dancing is variable. The soloist fairies are often lightweight, but the wedding guests show more assurance, with Anna Tikhomirova standing out in the “finger” variation and as Cinderella.

Season continues until 17 August. Box office 020 7304 4000.

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