The Sleeping Beauty, Royal Opera House, London


The Sleeping Beauty is definitely the ballerina’s ballet; the hero doesn’t show up until half-way through. Even so, Steven McRae was the star of this Royal Ballet revival, from his soaring jumps to his wonder as the fairy world opens up before him.

The Sleeping Beauty has been The Royal Ballet’s signature work for decades, the most sumptuous of 19th-century classics. In recent years, it also became asore point, as the company staged two expensive, unloved productions of Petipa’s classic ballet.

In 2006, Monica Mason tried to get backto basics with a new version of the company’s iconic 1946 production. It’s a mixed success; some of Oliver Messel’s famous designs have dated, others had been replaced. With this revival, thecostumes have been refurbished to bring them more in line with Messel’s originals. Aurora’s tutu has its delicate gauze sleeves again, though it still lacks thedeep pink layers under her pale pink overskirt. The production remains decent rather than radiant.

Akane Takada, a 21-year-old rising star, was scheduled to dance the opening performance, until stopped by injury. She was replaced by established star Sarah Lamb, who was a clear but colourless Aurora. An elegant dancer, with striking blonde looks and strong technique, she dances the role from a respectful distance.

A few weeks ago, in Balanchine’s Jewels, Lamb had personality to burn; she chooses not to show it in this 19th-century classic. She brings more warmth to the Rose adagio, with its demanding balances, and some floating line to the Vision scene, but I’d love to see her put more of herself into this ballet.

McRae is all colour. He phrases mime anddancing with vivid immediacy, always caught up in the moment. He watches the magical transformations with an awe that makes them real for us too. He partners Lamb with devoted warmth, gazing in delight as she dances. His own dancing is both dashing and secure. He follows whirling jumps with a pinpoint accurate finish, wittily understated.

Petipa’s ballet is a grand spectacle, showing off the range of the company in a wealth of soloist roles. Emma Maguire is sharp and quick. There was some lovely, expansive dancing from Melissa Hamilton, despite a slip in her third-act solo. Helen Crawford’s Lilac Fairy has warmth, although she is pressed by the very difficult solo. Kristen McNally was splendid as the wicked fairy Carabosse, with bright, spiteful mime and a sense of outraged grandeur. Gary Avis and Genesia Rosato are touching as the King and Queen.

In rep to 21 December (020-7340 4000)

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