The Sleeping Beauty, Royal Opera House, London
Manon, Royal Opera House, London

With fizzing invention, this limitless masterpiece springs its thrills once again

The best old ballets are like Dickens and Shakespeare: not only do they bear revisiting an indefinite number of times, but they have the capacity to yield more in steady increments.

Once, I'm faintly ashamed to say, I found it baffling that grown-ups would pay money to sit through The Sleeping Beauty, an elaborate late-19th century pageant stuffed with fairies and princes and people pretending to be rats and birds, created to flatter Russia's Tsar. Now that I've lost count of the productions I've seen of it, though, the memory of the best beams brighter than almost anything in 20 years of committed dance watching.

The Royal Ballet's current Beauty is an especially multi-layered thing, being a homage to the 1946 production that re-opened the darkened Royal Opera House after the Second World War. Given the privations of the time its glamour was a triumph in itself (some of Oliver Messel's costumes had to be fashioned from old curtains), but the ballet's themes – goodness vanquishing evil, the restoration of balance after a long trauma, the investment of hope in the unsullied young – were overwhelmingly apt. It still brings a lump to my throat to think of this staging's first reception.

But the main reason ballet companies, and the Royal in particular, can't leave Petipa's Sleeping Beauty dozing in the back-catalogue is that it offers more roles than any other dancework ever – and more technical challenge, more fizzing invention, more steps full stop. It is this, as well as Tchaikovsky's most dazzling ballet score – that keeps audiences coming back for a repeat of the buzz.

You can trace the arc of a ballerina's career through her Aurora, too. Sarah Lamb, the Royal Ballet's closest approximation to a porcelain shepherdess and almost of a size to pop on the mantelpiece, heads the first cast of this latest revival. Compared with her last-but-one outing in the role, she has come a long way. Not that she was ever unsteady in the famously testing Rose Adage balances, as the teenage princess is obliged to balance on one toe, lifted leg untiringly held and bent at a perfect 90-degree angle, while being passed perilously from hand to hand by a line of suitors. Now, though, she finds more space, more clarity, more obvious delight, in the flexible, almost ad lib moments when not only the conductor and solo violin, but every last member of the audience attends the next flexing of her wrist or pawing of her silk-slippered foot with inheld breath.

And has any girl ever whipped herself in and out of those plunging fishdives – one outstretched hand almost grazing the floor, the rest of her a perfect crescent – more deftly? In this she is abetted by superb partnering from Steven McRae, a peas-in-pod match not just in complexion and physique, but also speed, lightness and exactitude.

Of the music, you can tell how highly the players rate the score from the energy and care they lavish on it. Yet this is music written to order, chunk by chunk (when asked for 32 bars of music to accompany women knitting, Tchai-kovsky happily and wittily obliged): proof if any were needed that true genius rises to a challenge.

It's the absence of any such bracing element that makes Manon a lesser experience. For all its silky Massenet tunes, filleted partly from other ballet scores, it is a Classic FM mongrel to Tchaikovsky's thoroughbred. The choreography, made by Kenneth MacMillan in the early 1970s, is erratic in tone, classical-lite in its sometimes pointless leapings and twirlings, strikingly expressionist as a shipload of half-dead female convicts offer a disturbing vision of formalised reeling and fainting (you feel this is the ballet MacMillan would rather have made). Yet the story romps along perfectly well, and Sarah Lamb is again delicious in the title role. Even so, Manon is a heroine as venal as she is pretty, and so compliant in her downfall at the hands of unsavoury old men that you can hardly call it a tragedy.

'The Sleeping Beauty' to 21 Dec; 'Manon' to 26 Nov (both 020-7304 4000)

Next Week:

Jenny Gilbert seeks light and shadow in Caravaggio: Exile and Death

Dance Choice

Drawing on disciplines as diverse as ballet, martial arts, meditation and chi kung, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan returns with its latest work White. Divided into three acts, each presenting a different "white", the show plays with perceptions of light and presents the body in its purest form. At Sadler's Wells, London (Wed to Sat).



Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.


Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss