The Sleeping Beauty
Streamed 26 – 30 December 2020, recorded on 18 December 2019
One of many striking things about Marcia Haydée’s production of The Sleeping Beauty is that although it premiered on 10 May 1987, it still looks fresh and current and could have been created within the last couple of years. It has all the necessary ingredients to transport us into a land of fairytales and provides so much dancing to its huge cast that it would be impossible to mention every soloist here and do them justice.
This streaming is a recording from December 2019 and a rather uncomfortable reminder of the journey we have all experienced within the last year. The stage is populated by courtiers, lots of children, a corps de ballet of sizeable proportions, many partnerships and a full auditorium, with repeated curtain calls to whoops and loud applause – in other words, The Sleeping Beauty as we’d like to view it.
Costumes and sets by Jürgen Rose are breathtaking: the detail and colour schemes, the length of the tutus, the rush of pleasure as the curtain rises on different seasons during the passage of time and endless memorable scenes with every exquisite, bejewelled head-dress in delicate shades of a very varied palette. The Prologue, so often staged in near darkness, is in the bright, light of spring in the palace gardens. The courtiers are dressed in distilled shades of blue, an initially puzzling overdose of my favourite colour, then providing a wonderful contrast when the fairies and their cavaliers enter. Another extremely rewarding feature of this production is the distribution of dancing between the men and women. Most traditional productions are a bit of a marathon for the ladies, often with many rapid costume changes and very tough on the stamina and pointe work. Here it is not just the fairies who dance but their cavaliers who display beautiful, crisp batterie, high assemblés and double tours (to a passage of music usually assigned to Lilac Attendants in tutus), all very musically executed and keeping up with the speedy tempi driven by Mikhail Agrest’s excellent conducting. The fairies too, are lovely in their variations – it’s good to see them bless the baby Aurora instead of taking a lengthy curtain call to the audience after each solo. I particularly enjoyed the Woodland Glades (Grace) of Diana Ionescu and Miriam Kacerova’s Lilac Fairy. It is safe to say that the star turn in the Prologue (and for much of the remaining performance) is that of Jason Reilly as Carabosse. In a slinky black dress, with long, black tresses and makeup that would not look out of place in RuPaul’s Drag Race, his was an interpretation to cherish! Reilly may have looked a tad camp, with exaggerated features and imposing presence, but the acting was actually subtle – not so much a caricature and definitely not doing this for humorous effect – but one who takes the inhabitance of the character very seriously indeed and is therefore quite scary. And Reilly’s dancing is beyond brilliant. It was my first experience of a Carabosse flying through the air with double saut de basques and split jetés à la seconde.
The transition to Act I is depicted clearly as we see the Lilac Fairy tending to the child Aurora (with Carabosse in low-key attendance). When the curtain properly rises, the palace gardens are in full bloom and the stage quickly fills with garland dancers. The four Princes are given real dancing instead of just the duties of partnering Aurora. The music usually given over to Aurora’s Friends is a pas de quatre for the regals demonstrating technical strength. The Princes South, West, East and North – Martí Fernández Paixà, Timoor Afshar, Fabio Adorisio and Daniele Silingardi, each show a level of assurance that gives them possibilities to aspire to the ultimate Prince (Desiré). Elisa Badenes as Princess Aurora, looks young enough to be sixteen. Her dancing is fluid and controlled with a breeziness that makes it all look straightforward for her. After a little tentativeness during the balances in the Rose Adage, she seemed to relax into her role with charm and confidence. While she has pure lines, beautiful footwork and everything else that goes with ballerina status, it is her exquisite port de bras and hands that give her that extra fragility, taking her to the next level.
Act II presents in warm, autumnal colours. I hardly noticed the hunt courtiers once Friedemann Vogel stepped onto the stage as Prince Desiré. His perfect proportions, the eloquence of his lines and intricate footwork, his gracious demeanour make him ideally cast. He is a true danseur noble and although he is clearly en route to sovereignty, he maintains a boyish playfulness. The vision scene is quite magical – and one felt a degree of empathic relief for the corps de ballet of nymphs who were not forced to perform a series of cabrioles devant and derrière, but merely the latter in what is usually a strenuous exercise in most productions. Badenes and Vogel have an instant connection in the lyrical pas de deux and throughout this act, as previously, the men are on an equal footing with the women. Even Prince Desiré gets a lion’s share of solo work. There are some lovely details such as the Prince watching from the balustrade up above, as Aurora does her solo. During the awakening scene Reilly excels himself, as Carabosse collapses in an unavoidably dramatic reaction to the Prince’s success at waking his Princess – worthy of an Oscar.
Act III can only be described as a dance fest, set in decorative opulence. Every conceivable fictional and fairytale character gets an invite to the wedding celebrations including Cinderella, Harlequin and Columbine (who remain delightfully animated and involved throughout all the diverts), Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs, Red Riding Hood and her dastardly Wolf and the usual dancing guests.
Florestan is replaced by Ali Baba (Ciro Ernesto Mansilla, in exceedingly good form) and his four jewels. Ali Baba has a role on a par with Bluebird in importance and while he may have looked slightly more at home in a production of Le Corsaire – in this context, it was just another opportunity to watch more fantastical dancing. The Bluebird and Princess Florine of Adhonay Soares da Silva and Agnes Su were superlative and an appropriate precursor into the Grand pas de deux with Badenes and Vogel. The grandness of the occasion did not daunt the principal couple. Both gave immaculate, elegant renditions without losing their enthusiasm for each other. Once again, one was struck with Badenes’ grace and lovely épaulement in her port de bras – an ability to work hard with the legs and feet and remain seemingly relaxed from the waist up. Vogel appears to deliver fireworks without a hint of strain and always within the constraints of the music.
In conclusion – this is probably one of the most engaging productions of The Sleeping Beauty I have seen. The narrative is sustained by the continuing presence of the evil Carabosse who is never quite extinguished, if somewhat thwarted in her ambitions. The abundance of dance opportunities in this production means that a range and depth of talent is a prerequisite. Stuttgart fills these requirements and delivers a traditional Beauty with originality – in spite of its 33 years in the repertoire.