The Sleeping Beauty returns to the ballet repertory year after year, because it contains something to satisfy everyone. It offers benchmark roles for the leading dancers and soloists, one of Tchaikovsky’s most enchanting scores, a reassuring vision of good triumphing over evil for adults, and a pretty fairytale for children, complete with a heartless villain and dancing cats and birds.
In The Royal Ballet’s current revival, eight women will take turns embodying Aurora, who develops from blushing youth to serene maturity in a matter of hours. Each dancer faces a double task, to realize Petipa’s difficult choreography with absolute confidence and also to stamp her own personality on the story-book princess. A role such as Cinderella presents the same problem, and each performer’s individual solutions reveal her artistry as well as her skill.
As the first Aurora in a series of 18 performances, Lauren Cuthbertson (above) conquered both challenges with delightful ease, drawing her delicate phrasing from the music and sharing her thoughts through her eyes, smile and gracious manner. The only British-born woman among the principals, she seemed to revel in the character, fulfilling it perfectly by presenting it with charming modesty.
Except for James Hay, a breathtaking Bluebird who soared buoyantly through every fluttering beat in his two solos, nobody else looked entirely secure in this familiar tale. Concentrating on precise execution rather than narrative effect, the fairies and wooing princes went through their paces without much conviction, and Matthew Golding, playing Prince Florimund for his first appearance as a principal artist of this company, made little impression either as a dancer or an actor.
The woman beside me texted through the Vision scene, whispering that the stage was too dark for her to see anything. The man on my other side slept. Surely the company hopes to engage everyone, both onstage and off.
Country Life recommends three full evening ballets to see this spring:
The Sleeping Beauty. The Royal Ballet. Royal Opera House until 9 April; www.roh.org.uk. The production will also be streamed live in cinemas across the world on 19 March. For more on this see www.roh.org.uk/cinemas.
The Prince of the Pagodas. Birmingham Royal Ballet. Birmingham Hippodrome until 1 March; Theatre Royal, Plymouth, 19-22 March; London Coliseum, 26-29 March. www.brb.org.uk
Romeo and Juliet. Scottish Ballet. touring 19 April to 24 May. www.scottishballet.co.uk
* Follow Country Life magazine on Twitter
** Image courtesy of ROH/Johan Persson