The Sleeping Beauty, Royal Opera House, London

Cupid's been downsized, for now
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The Independent Culture

It's starting to look like a bad fairy's curse. When Natalia Makarova's lavish production of The Sleeping Beauty premiered last year, Darcey Bussell woke from her 100-year sleep only to be felled by an old injury. At the first night of the revival, Johan Kobborg's Prince was barely five minutes on stage before he turned his ankle and had to withdraw, replaced, after a deflating wait of 20 minutes while he dressed and warmed up, by Federico Bonelli who was watching from the wings.

And injury isn't the only jinx on the Royal Ballet's £700,000 investment. The new version itself caused consternation for ditching nearly 60 years of Royal Ballet history in favour of what is essentially a Soviet confection: flowery in manner, cursory in the narrative detail that RB dancers excel in. Makarova also added a wincingly winsome cupid that led to calls for a Herod-style cull.

One year on, changes have been made, but too timidly to solve the real problems. The cupid has been downsized: now you're left wondering why the child is there at all. A swan-shaped boat now carries Prince and cupid from the vision scene, but the first-night poppet clearly hadn't been told what to do in it. The messy struggle with the forces of evil in the thorny forest is better lit but just as confusing. Worse, the action drags over details and scrambles the essentials, most markedly the kiss - a hurried peck followed by a peremptory nod to the in-laws.

Yet under the beam of fine performances even the creakiest faults recede. Tiny Alina Cojocaru brings a helium lightness to Aurora, her brilliance on opening night barely registering a flicker when her Prince turned out to be almost a foot taller than the one she'd rehearsed with. In the same cast, Lauren Cuthbertson, only 19, finds an amplitude beyond her years as the Lilac Fairy. Edward Watson's enjoyably venomous hag succeeded where all others I've seen have failed, vanishing down the stage trapdoor and taking his cloak along with him.

The magnificent corps, a flotilla of lilac tutus and delicately curled arms in the Prologue, provided one of the best massed images of the evening. Elsewhere, evidence of Makarova's coaching is fading fast. In a few years' time the Royal may also have forgotten why it commissioned this ill-fitting version in the first place.

'The Sleeping Beauty': Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020 7304 4000), Tuesday

jenny.gilbert@independent.co.uk

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