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About the Change

Birmingham Royal Ballet

‘The Sleeping Beauty’

March 2010
Birmingham Hippodrome,
Salford, Lowry

by Ian Palmer

© Bill Cooper

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In my opinion there are two current productions of The Sleeping Beauty in the repertory of the UK’s ballet companies really worth bothering with: Macmillan’s American Ballet Theatre staging performed by ENB and that by Sir Peter Wright made in 1984 danced by BRB. Both succeed because of virtues in telling their simple tale, in the propulsion of their dramas through the fashioning of their dances and in sumptuous designs that richly underpin the ballet’s narrative. If I had to save one from the flames however, it would probably be Sir Peter’s because in every performance I have seen it has always seemed more naturally “living” (Petipa and Tchaikovsky breath more freely within it) and never a lifeless succession of balletic set-pieces.

In its current revival I have seen it twice – once at a Saturday matinee at Birmingham’s Hippodrome earlier last month, and again at the opening night of the Lowry season this week – and I do not think I have seen the Birmingham company ever looking so good. Neat, crisp feet and unison arms all made the corps dances a revelation of exquisite patternings and if the Prologue Fairies in Birmingham seemed to deliver their variations with too much of a sforzando accent (not helped by a most rapid account of the score) in Salford they appeared much softer and more classically demure so that they certainly bettered those I have recently seen by the Mariinsky and Royal Ballet companies. At both performances the final act divertissements were wittily entertaining as they must properly be and in Salford Momoko Hirata was a Princess Florine whose arms were like willow branches in a soft breeze – delightful.

There are two things I am not keen on, however, with the production: the conception of the Lilac Fairy as a mime role, which too diminishes her effect in the staging, and the choreographed Panorama, which though practical for touring purposes, detracts from the unfolding colours of Tchaikovsky’s music (unhappily truncated). It unwisely sets-up an encounter between the Lilac Fairy and Carabosse that lapses a little into the hammy. Of course a BRB Sleeping Beauty would not be complete without Marion Tait as Carabosse, a dance actress who could convey drama with her little finger and she delivered a master-class (in both performances) of spiteful glamour.


Natasha Oughtred and Iain Mackay in The Sleeping Beauty
© Bill Cooper
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I saw two Auroras and (due to the injury of Chi Cao) one Florimund. At the matinee Natasha Oughtred was giving only her second performance in the role, (which would explain the slight hesitation in her Rose Adagio balances) but one that was nicely judged and fine-tuned. She was especially good at presenting a young girl’s innocence in the First Act, using her eyes quite charmingly, and grew into the role to give a fine account of the Grand Pas de Deux. Nao Sakuma (in Salford) is more experienced and it showed, though not necessarily to her benefit in the earlier act. A ballerina too secure, too authoritative in the opening of the ballet cannot grow through it and superb though Sakuma’s Rose Adagio was (taken at a slightly slower pace than Oughtred) it could have done with a little of the polish removed. The Ashton variation in the Vision sequence was, however, lusciously phrased and Nakuma was rightly imbued with the grand manner for Act 3.

Both ballerinas were blessed by the assured, noble support of Iain Mackay’s Florimund. Mackay has recently returned to the company after a sojourn with Angel Corella in Spain and his experience there must have been a life-changing one, because he is an entirely different dancer from that whom we once knew. His technique is superb – his neat landings into fifth position were heavenly – his strength and style commanding and more than once did I think that finally here was a dancer to whom Thomas Edur could pass his crown.

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