First performed in 1890, The Birmingham Royal Ballet have stepped back in time to sample a classic steeped in history. Refreshed in a darkly atmospheric production, Peter Wright’s reimagining of Sleeping Beauty incorporates familiar elements of the fable with thriftless new features.
The Lowry’s Theatre appears polished from all angles as multi-layered sets turn a regal hall into a mystical forest. Despite its familiar story, there is a sense of awe that comes from this flamboyant production, aided by its large cast and lavish costumes.
Opening at Princess Aurara’s christening, fairy godmother and guests gather round the beauty and her parents in celebration. Suddenly, in a brilliant haze enters the wicked witch Carabasse, gate-crashing with a posy of six ghoulish dancers. Tapping into beauty and terror, Nao Sakuma (Carabasse) performance brings the surreal aspects to this retelling, keeping audiences out of a sickly-sweet fantasy world.
In sleek formations, large entourages shape the productions scenes with only a few central performances carrying the plot. After Aurora falls under the spell of Carabasse’s curse, it is left to the Lilac Fairy to guide audiences through all three acts. The production switches between group performances and solos which allows the dancers to carry a lightness and energy throughout the difficult choreography. Teamed with Philip Prowse’s decorative scenery and elaborate costumes, the group dynamic is powerful. However, solo scenes in which Momoko Hirata’s (Aurora) endlessly jumps, spins and sores across the stage in a couture tutu offers moments of pure dance and perfection.
Wright’s production does offer more than the technical steps. The story is told partly through mine acting using the Lilac Fairy (Jenna Roberts) and is set during the Baroque period. Striking costume designs layer silk, satins and sequences over restrictive corsets and cloaks. With such lux attention to detail there is always something to pull your focus back to the world they have created.
Live music from The Royal Sinfonia is also masterfully composed from Tchaikovsky’s score and shaped to guide audiences through the narrative. There are even music changes that signify whether a character onstage is good or evil.
Wright clearly has the Midas touch and with a tale that has lost none of its sparkle, this rigorous retelling of Sleeping Beauty will enchant a wide audience for years to come.
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