Sleeping Beauties

W hen the Sadler's Wells Ballet moved to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, after the Second World War (and later became the Royal Ballet) its first production was The Sleeping Beauty in a production designed by Oliver Messell. It was hugely successful and was performed many times until in 1968 Peter Wright restaged it with medieval designs: a production I always liked, and which was televised one Christmas by the BBC (it was recorded, though I don't know whether this has survived - I'd love to see it again). Two subsequent versions followed in 1973 and 1977, neither especially memorable: in 1994 Anthony Dowell staged it with a distracting backround in an exaggerated perspective: this version has been released on DVD (but seems currently unavailable). In 2003 Natalia Makarova staged a rather small-scale version.

I've seen a number of productions by other companies, of course: The London Festival Ballet (now the English National Ballet) had an interesting production with a fully danced Carabosse (normally a mime part): and in 2000 the Kirov Ballet brought to London a restoration of the 1890s Mariinsky Theatre production with magnificently lush colours - one tends to think of Victorian Era ballet as being rather stuffy from seeing contemporary photographs, but this looked terrific, with the rich colours never looking gaudy.

In 2006 the Royal Ballet re-mounted the 1946 Oliver Messel production - of necessity not an exact version as some of the original designs have disappeared - and including some of the familiar extra choreography by Ashton, Dowell and Wheeldon. This was broadcast by the BBC in January 2007, though no DVD has yet emerged of it. It's been revived again for the current season and was performed yesterday evening with Roberta Marquez and Johan Kobborg in the lead roles.

Messel's designs are very much in an old-fahioned fairy-tale tradition, though skilfully and tastefully done: the main problem is that the scenery is entirely constructed with flat drops, which look rather artificial. The colours throughout are muted, and the costumes in delicate pastel shades. The whole effect is very attractive, if perhaps a little too restrained. The ballet itself had the usual cuts in Act 2 (only two of the numerous short dances for the hunting party were performed) and a few interpolations such as Christopher Wheeldon's version of the Garland Dance in Act 1 and Ashton's version of the lead dancers' variations in Act 2.

I felt that the performance, while good, was also perhaps a little restrained: though enjoyable it never quite caught fire the way this, the best of Tchaikovsky's three ballets, should.

A shortened version of Act 1 of the original Oliver Messel version was filmed in 1951, with Fonteyn as Aurora, as part of a film of the full ballet which was never completed. A black and white American TV version from 1955 has been released on DVD.

Posted: Sat - April 19, 2008 at 10:18 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM