Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty is a very courtly fairytale, packed with demanding pure dance and formal storytelling. The dancers of Birmingham Royal Ballet respond to both sides, with vivid mime and some easy, confident dancing.
If anything, Philip Prowse's designs are almost too courtly. He creates an opulent baroque world, from the bronzed obelisk of the Prologue to the mirrored panels and sunburst clouds of the last act. His strikingly cut costumes move beautifully – but there's a lot of black, even at the heroine's christening and wedding. For a tale of renewal and reawakening, Prowse isn't exactly spring-like, but he's sumptuously grand.
Peter Wright's production is firmly in the Royal Ballet tradition, drawing on the richest Beauty text in the world. He adds some tweaks. The Lilac Fairy becomes a mime role, a match for the wicked fairy Carabosse; I miss the role's dancing elements, but Andrea Tredinnick is a gracious presence. The woodland scenes are atmospheric.
Nao Sakuma has soft classical line and delicate phrasing, but she made a withdrawn Aurora. She looked alarmed by her own birthday party, as if all the compliments were too much for her. Sakuma gave a clear account of the challenging Rose Adagio, and gained warmth in the first-act solo.
Sakuma is best in the Vision scene, where she's supposed to be remote, but she also found more grandeur for the celebrations of the last act. Iain Mackay, her prince, is dancing with new tautness and authority. He has clean turns and a buoyant jump, while partnering Sakuma with gentle care.
The ballet's many soloist roles were cast from strength, with principals dancing the fairy variations. Ambra Vallo danced the second solo with sharp drive. Carol-Anne Millar was outstanding in the "finger" variation. There's a crackling energy to her changes of direction; she bends one way, then jumps explosively back again.
The grandest performance comes from Marion Tait's magnificent Carabosse. Left off the guest list for Aurora's christening, Tait's bad fairy turns up in a frozen rage, completely dignified and definitely scary. There's an icy disdain in the turn of her head, a furious force to her gestures. When she drops the list of invited guests, the silk scroll hurtles to the ground – falling unexpectedly fast, landing smack on the beat. Even gravity jumps to do this Carabosse's bidding.
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