English National Ballet's London Christmas season opens with The Sleeping Beauty, and with a real sense of magic. Kenneth MacMillan's production creates a rich fairy-tale world, full of vivid moments. If you want Christmas ballet, with tutus and lavish scenery, this is lovely. If you want a faithful, intelligent staging of a 19th-century classic, here it is, too.
This production, which MacMillan created for American Ballet Theatre, has been carefully restaged by English National Ballet's staff. Pacing and musical timing are good: Petipa's dances unfold with handsome assurance.
The other fairy godmothers circle the Lilac Fairy, a line of dancers curling and opening out. When the wicked fairy Carabosse approaches, a messenger runs in to warn of impending disaster – but he bows to the king before delivering his message. This is a court, where formal behaviour is second nature. Throughout, the stage business is well directed and lively.
Nicholas Georgiadis's costumes, designed for the American production, are richly gilded, with the different time-periods nicely marked. After a 17th-century birthday party, Aurora's 100 years' sleep brings us to an 18th-century hunting scene with well-cut riding habits, grand hats and veils. Peter Farmer's new sets are lavish, sometimes over-intricate, particularly with David Richardson's rather dim lighting. Farmer's hunt scene, a misty forest, is admirable.
The first-night Aurora, Fernanda Oliveira, gave a lucid performance. She's a confident princess, shaping her steps cleanly and dancing with momentum. Her first act solo was excellent, with clear musical phrasing to Matthew Scrivener's violin solo. Her prince, Dmitri Gruzdyev, is a limited actor, but he dances boldly and partners well.
Sarah McIlroy is a poised Lilac Fairy, shaping steps and mime gestures with the same simplicity. She gains authority with each act. André Portasio goes rather over the top as the wicked Carabosse, but he's a gifted performer. His arms sweep through the mime, fluid but strong, and his timing is excellent.
There's a superb mime performance from Michael Coleman, the Master of Ceremonies who forgot to put Carabosse on his invitation list. He's self-important but sweet, always caught up in the moment. When he discovers peasant women using banned needles, he confiscates them – then can't think where to put them, looking down at an elaborate costume that has no pockets.
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