The Royal Ballet's Sleeping Beauty is taking forever to wake up. This 2006 production has obvious virtues, including a clear text and Oliver Messel's fairy-tale scenery. It's frustrating because it could, and should, be better. Where the dancing might be rich, we get bland and pretty.
The Sleeping Beauty should be home ground for the Royal Ballet. It's the work that won this company its international reputation, the ballet that reopened the Royal Opera House after the war. The current version insists on all that history, without quite bringing it to life. With Christopher Newton, company director Monica Mason has gone back to the 1946 production.
The 2006 version isn't an absolute reconstruction. With their flimsy, glittery detail, Peter Farmer's costumes are a lot more Farmer than Messel. What makes this a second-generation copy is the quality of the dancing. When the Lilac Fairy's attendants dance, their arms move tidily into place, but it all looks sketchy.
Lacking colour and emphasis, this Sleeping Beauty drifts along as spectacle. Kings, princes and fairies walk through, miming conscientiously without really drawing us in to the story. They're dutiful rather than inspired. Genesia Rosato, for instance, is a terrific character dancer, but as the bad fairy, Carabosse, she just cackles away.
It's left to individual dancers to pull the ballet into focus. Specifically, it's up to the heroine, Aurora. Tamara Rojo isn't a natural for this role. She's a dramatic dancer with a strong personality, at her best in the lusts and needs of MacMillan's story ballets. As a princess at her birthday party, she's out of her depth.
Rojo's Aurora lacks radiance, partly in personality but also physically. Movement doesn't flow through her whole body, while the carriage of her head and shoulders is unrelaxed. Her technique is strong, but sometimes misused. In her Act I solo, she throws in triple and quadruple pirouettes – but the only reason that she doesn't spin past the music is that the orchestra holds a pause longer to wait for her.
As Aurora grows up, Rojo does get better. Her dancing is much more lucid in the last act, with clearer phrasing and greater authority. But she still cuts steps in her final-act solo, replacing them with yet more turns. The dancing of her partner, Federico Bonelli, is warm and fluent, but he's too quiet to pull the ballet back on track.
The strongest performance comes from Marianela Nuñez as the Lilac Fairy. When Nuñez dances, you suddenly see the choreography in three dimensions. Held poses shine out; movement flows, her phrasing full of light and musical shade. Her warm personality gives weight to the mime scenes, to the story.
The whole ballet needs those qualities. The Sleeping Beauty is full of soloist roles, from the fairy godmothers who dance at Aurora's christening to the fairy-tale guests who celebrate her wedding. With this production, too many of them have been poorly coached. Over many cast changes since 2006, we've had a lot of very dull christening fairies. That hasn't changed at this revival: only Samantha Raine stands out.
Yet, a few roles have been well-taught. I've yet to see a bad Red Riding Hood; this performance had the enchanting Caroline Duprot, who has an innocent baby face and a lovely way with comedy. Puss-in-Boots and the White Cat, danced by Ricardo Cervera and Iohna Loots, are crisp and spontaneous. Sarah Lamb is elegant in the Bluebird duet, though she could be more individual. Her partner, Yohei Sasaki, lacks oomph.
Tchaikovsky's score was conducted by Valeriy Ovsyanikov. He takes the ballet at a fast pace, at times rushing some of the corps dancers. Still, he brings out the richness and sparkle of the music, with warm hunting horns and courtly dances.
In repertory until 6 May (020-7304 4000)