A traditional Fairy Tale ballet to dispel those January blues...
With the pantomime season over what better way to dispel the January blues than a performance of Sleeping Beauty, a fairy tale ballet at the Nottingham Royal Concert Hall.
Based on a story dating back to the 1300s, it was put to music by Tchaikovsky in 1889, and before the curtain was raised there was no mistaking the melodic beauty and genius of his composition. Bulgaria’s Varna International Ballet was accompanied live, by their International Ballet Orchestra, and this elegant and traditional rendition of a well-known story easily transported us from wet Nottingham streets into a classic battle between good and evil.
A colourful and gently heartening prologue began with a christening, where extravagant courtly costumes were the backdrop to beautiful set dance pieces and the delicately delivered solos of fairies who had been invited to bestow gifts on the new Princess. All of which was dramatically disrupted by the predictably evil fairy Carabosse, performed by Mirko Andreutti.
Angry at a lack of invitation to the festivities she cursed the princess to die when she reached sixteen. Fortunately, the Lilac fairy, was on hand to reduce the curse to a 100-year sleep, and the promise of a Prince to kiss her awake, so the story was set.
Experiencing Tchaikovsky’s score in this setting was an undoubted privilege
Act I took us to Princess Aurora’s sixteenth birthday celebrations with dancers in sumptuous costumes filling the stage and included amongst them were her potential suitors. Accompanied by a familiar waltz, the technical ability of Martina Prefetto in the lead role was apparent. Despite the benefit of foresight, the evil fairy reappeared, and after sending the Princess to sleep, the Lilac Fairy, played by Mara Salvaggio, delivered a commanding and spell-binding solo, filled with beauty and hope. She was for my money the star of the show.
The dramatic entrance of Prince Désiré, played by Victoria Scole brought us into Act 2 and the music and the dance with the Lilac fairy was at this point exquisite, filled with gentle strength and athleticism, delivering her authority over the production. The Princess was woken with a kiss and the wedding celebrations were delightfully populated by duet dances of familiar fairy tale characters. This included a luminous and bewitching dance between Blue Bird with Princess Florine and a playful cabaret styled delivery of White Cat and Puss-in-Boots.
This is the debut visit to the UK for the Varna company, delivering an impressive 21 city tour of various productions, over a two-month period. No doubt, it is filling gaps left by cancelled Russian Ballet. And whilst the projected backdrops may be necessary to complete such an itinerary, I felt at that at times their colouring and artistry detracted from the graceful beauty of the dancers.
Having only been to the ballet once before, this was a joyful way to spend an evening and the familiarity of the story was of definite benefit as were the costumes and sensitivities of the dancers in communicating the narrative. The live orchestra was stunning, delivering not only the subtleties of the music but a sense of their enjoyment in its performance.
Experiencing Tchaikovsky’s score in this setting was an undoubted privilege and whilst I bemoaned the lack of divergence from traditional roles, it has given me the taste to seek out more imaginative renditions of this ballet in the future.
Varna International Ballet played Sleeping Beauty at the Royal Concert Hall on Tuesday 23rd January 2024.
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