Friday evening's Sleeping Beauty at the BRB was wonderful. As a former (amateur) theatre critic, I know for a fact I am no ballet critic, and there is much I have to learn, but these are my musings about Friday night's Sleeping Beauty:
I was really excited to arrive at the theatre, not knowing the cast, to discover that not only was Marion Tait playing Carabosse, but Natasha Oughtred and Iain Mackay were in the lead roles. It was almost as if I had picked the line up for my own personal ballet performance. I've followed Natasha Oughtred for some time and feel that she represents, to me, everything I would love to be if I were a ballerina; and I had seen Iain Mackay in Cyrano in October - and had thought him very accomplished, so I was, understandably, excited before the curtain went up. And, by and large, I was not disappointed.
Of course, the ballet doesn't start with the entry of the evil fairy but Marion Tait, as Carabosse, stole the show for me. I can't believe how a woman of such diminutive stature (in real life) could command such presence on stage. She conveyed an icy evilness that permeated the stage and was utterly delicious in its malevolence. I thought she was perfect in the role and I could have watched her all evening! She didn't overdo it, but you certainly got the feeling that she could have frozen any member of the company with one of her powerfully withering glances. I can only imagine how effective she is as ballet mistress at the BRB. I wouldn't want to miss her class, that's for sure! Mention here for Andrea Tredenick, who played the queen. She, too, was wonderful and has a definite Marion Tait-ness about her: I think she might be one to watch.
The lilac fairy was beautifully mimed/danced by Lei Zhao and I really believed in her care and compassion - not to mention her stunningly soft port de bras. Crucially, Natasha Oughtred didn't fall short of my expectations (as I was a little worried would happen at one point!), and despite a minor stutter in the rose adagio (she didn't look as confident as perhaps she should - although perhaps this was part of her naivety as a 16 year old), she danced lyrically and musically(which is my preference over, for example, some of the overtly technical dancing of Russian trained ballerinas) and she looks every inch a prima ballerina on stage .
In the prologue, both my husband and I loved the fairies and their lightness of touch in their initial performances. In fact, little could be criticised of either this or the first act, since it was so sumptuously costumed and mimed by even those not in dancing roles. The corp de ballet were all, without exception, wonderful to watch in the roles of Aurora's friends and the Lilac Fairy's assistants - they danced musically, lightly and with beautiful arms and feet (if only I could do the same - they made it look so easy!).
The third act, in the forest, seemed quite different to the Royal Ballet version, but I think I preferred this one. The positioning of Aurora in the centre of the stage certainly made more sense to me, and when we caught glimpses of her through the forest, it seemed more apt for her to be at the middle of the stage rather than to the side, as in the RB performance. Oughtred, accompanied by the fairy's assistants, was mesmerising to watch, and I certainly felt the frustration of Florimund when he couldn't identify Aurora. Mackay was strong, manly and lithe - turning swiftly and deftly, desperate in his chase of Aurora. When the two finally met (both in the vision scene and later in the final act), I felt they were a well matched couple - and he a noble suitor to her constantly maturing Aurora. Their pas de deux was moving and musically approached, even if the music left little impression on me! I know that it's set music, but I wanted more of the Tchaikovsky Sleeping Beauty refrain "I know you I walked with you..." - (apologies to Disney) at this point!
The final act didn't quite have the punch that the RB version had, and although the pas de quatre and bluebirds were entertaining they served as a distraction before the union of Florimund and Aurora. I also preferred the fairy tale characters in the RB version, although will always have a soft spot for puss in boots and the white cat, regardless of who plays them!
Overall, and perhaps because I was watching from the middle stalls of the Hippodrome rather than the upper slips of the ROH, I preferred the BRB version. I felt it to be a strangely more palatial production, and I also had more invested in the musical and emotional interpretations of the main characters. That isn't, of course, to disregard the RB version, but rather to say that my heart is stolen by the Florimund and Aurora of the BRB. I felt it spoke more directly to me and I came away remembering exactly why I LOVE the BRB!