Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Sleeping Bluebird

Sarah Lamb as Princess Aurora
A week and a half ago, I saw the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden in The Sleeping Beauty, with Vadim Muntagirov and Sarah Lamb. (Yes, this review is a bit late, but just imagine that it’s been under a magic spell). 

The Royal Ballet’s production is both regal and traditional; the company has been the main repository for the original choreography of Sleeping Beauty since the 1940s, and while an occasional dance has been added here and there, for the most part it’s still done very traditionally. The pantomime is done as a type of complicated sign language rather than silent acting. The Petipa variations are crisp, set off from the story and performed with impeccable technique all around. 

Just one of the two garland types on display in the Royal Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty
Of course, such a focus on tradition makes the additions stand out in relatively sharp profile. Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography for the Act I waltz is engaging, but there is a great deal of futzing with the different types of garlands that sticks out. Frederick Ashton’s Act II variation for the prince is very beautiful, extremely languid and pensive. Indeed, it’s wonderful to see a man’s variation with this much elegance and subtlety since most 19th-century ballets are now staged only with virtuosic jumping for the men. Nevertheless, that very fact makes it stick out in a production otherwise bound to the choreography received by the company in 1939.

Muntagirov as Prince Florimund
Muntagirov and Lamb make a beautiful couple. Lamb tends to dance this choreography very cleanly and simply; she shows off the steps beautifully and is a complete powerhouse in the Rose Adagio. Muntagirov has a real technical brilliance, particularly in his jump. Everything is done very cleanly, and there were audible gasps in the normally quiet London audience when he landed his double tours in Act III. He completed the two full turns in the air (720 degrees) with no fudging or faltering, something I rarely see even in the most virtuosic dancers. 

As excellent as their performances were, though, I was more excited by the performances from Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell in the bluebird pas de deux. Hayward’s musical phrasing is astonishingly beautiful. Each part of her body accents the musical line, but only in the most subtle way. Her arms and upper torso are as engaged in creating the overall picture as her feet. It’s hard to believe that such an intellectually and emotionally engaging performance is coming from a 24-year-old.

This production is slated for live movie theater broadcast in February with Muntagirov partnering Marianela Nuñez. That pairing alone should be worth the trip to the cinema, but if Hayward is performing as well, it will be a recording worth keeping for a lifetime.

The Sleeping Beauty, Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, January 3. Music: Pyotr Tchaikovsky; Choreography: Petipa, Ashton, Wheeldon; Production: Monica Mason and Christopher Newton; Design: Oliver Messel and Peter Farmer. Aurora: Sarah Lamb; Florimund: Vadim Muntagirov; Lilac Fairy: Claire Calvert; Bluebird pas de deux: Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell.

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