Comparisons are inevitable when Birmingham Royal Ballet revives its production of The Sleeping Beauty so soon after the Covent Garden Royal Ballet presented its new version, and BRB comes off the better. Peter Wright's Birmingham staging, like Makarova's in London, introduces some alterations, but his fit more convincingly into the original context. Perhaps he is too eager to increase the amount of male dancing; but his one unforgivable fault is the ghastly shower of gold confetti at the end, which blocks the view and is unutterably vulgar, and hence totally out of place in this grandest of historic ballets.
That apart, BRB's Beauty looks great, thanks to Philip Prowse's handsome settings and ravishing costumes. The skirts especially are an object lesson in how to dress women for classical ballet, their shape, length, patterning and texture all perfect. Petipa's masterpiece choreography could hardly be better served.
In the past I have always seen this Beauty in regular theatres. This time it was given in the National Indoor Arena, a vast hall which, as well as accommodating a large stage, can seat 3,000 spectators - that's terrific. Of course, the dancers have to project their performances to match, but that is something BRB's casts excel in, and they succeed here without needing to exaggerate.
I saw two casts (there are several others also taking turns at the roles). On the first night, BRB's newest ballerina, Asta Bazeviciute from Lithuania, made a lovely Aurora. Long, beautiful legs, a charming face, technique to spare (her pirouettes are amazing) and a real personality add up to great performance. She is at her best where most dancers give least in this role - namely in the vision scene, where she embellishes the gorgeous Ashton solo to perfection. Handsome support comes from Andrew Murphy's fine Florimund.
But a more junior midweek matinée cast was also good. Rachel Peppin dances prettily as Aurora, and her Florimund, Michael Revie, has an unusual degree of style. As well as giving the solos notably well, he makes more of the acting than we generally see, offering real clarity of detail.
What struck me especially at both shows was the level of the ensemble. The men justify the emphasis that Wright has given them, and the important series of women's solos in the prologue are well danced, lively and individual. Two dancers stand out for performances way above usual standards: Robert Parker's Bluebird has grace as well as brilliance in his solos, and Monica Zamora makes a terrifying wicked fairy Carabosse, as baleful as she is beautiful, and gloating marvellously as her evil seems to succeed.
Quite a few others deserve mention, but instead I'll give my space to the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. Liberated from an orchestra pit to a large area in front of the stage where they are both seen and heard, they play Tchaikovsky's wonderful music (Barry Wordsworth conducting) with the relish it deserves.
Touring to Theatre Royal Plymouth (01752 267222), to SaturdayReuse content