February 2021 marked 75 years since The Royal Ballet reopened the Royal Opera House after World War II with a performance of The Sleeping Beauty. Royal Opera House is currently streaming their 2020 recording of the landmark production.

Sleeping Beauty Review

The Sleeping Beauty ballet is based on Charles Perrault‘s  La Belle au bois dormant and incorporated Perrault’s characters from some of his other stories into the ballet, such as Puss in Boots, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Bluebird as well as French fairy tale characters like Beauty and the Beast, Goldilocks and the White Cat. The ballet was choreographed by the ballet-world’s best known choreographer Marius Petipa and set to Tchaikovsky’s masterful music score.

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The production starts with the kingdom celebrating the christening of Princess Aurora. The wicked fairy Carabosse is furious that she wasn’t invited to the event. She arrives there anyway and curses the baby saying the Princess will prick her finger on a spindle and die. The Lilac Fairy, who is also at the christening, salvages the situation with her own gift – Princess Aurora will not die, but will fall into a deep sleep for a 100 years and will awaken with the Prince’s kiss. On her 16th birthday, the wicked fairy appears in disguise and gives Princess Aurora a spindle. The princess pricks her finger and falls into an enchanted sleep. The Lilac Fairy casts a spell, placing the entire kingdom into deep slumber and covers it with a dark forest. A hundred years later, Prince Florimund with help from the Lilac fairy, discovers the palace hidden deep within a great, dark forest. He wakes Princess Aurora with a kiss.

The 2020 recording of the production presents Marius Petipa’s choreography combined with sections created by Frederick Ashton, Anthony Dowell and Christopher Wheeldon. Together, they create magic. Needless to say the choreography is outstanding. The beauty of a classical ballet is the way it dramatizes the story akin to its Indian classical counterpart – especially in the use of mudras (hand gestures) – like this ballet does in order to convey protest or a King or marriage or death or tears or simply saying “no”. The portions with the fairy tale characters and the pas de deux (duet) by the lead pair have some excellent lifts. A nice little embellishment or choreographer’s touch is the way the characters are positioned in the freeze moments at the end of scenes. This coupled with the costumes, set and lighting make you feel you are looking at a Baroque painting.

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The wicked fairy Carabosse’s entry to thunder and lightning, her carriage drawn by rats, her body language and beautiful expressions, her disappearing into thick smoke stands out. Kristen McNally is brilliant as the wicked fairy. Her performance lingers on in memory long after the show. Flumi Kaneko (Princess Aurora /Sleeping Beauty) is a fantastic dancer, light on her feet, graceful, feminine, and dances effortlessly. The Rose Adagio portion of this ballet, which has Princess Aurora dancing with four suitors at her 16th birthday celebrations is known to be one among the ballet world’s most challenging pieces of choreography. It has a series of tough balancing on pointe. Kaneko pulls it off with elan.
The set and lighting are a designer’s dream come true. They add so much to the storyline and in creating a Baroque effect and add volumes in terms of visual impact. Of special mention are Princess Aurora’s birthday set, the forest set, the hidden kingdom set, and of course Princess Aurora’s bedroom set.

The ballet scores high not only on choreography and dance, but also on visual impact. It keeps you engrossed and mesmerized. This one is a ‘must-watch’. The Sleeping Beauty plays on the ROH website until the 28th March 2021. Don’t miss it.

Happy 75 to you dear Royal Opera House! Keep the shows coming.

(Photo Credits – Bill Cooper, Courtesy The Royal Opera House) 

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