Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sleeping Beauty
The Imperial Russian Ballet Company
Canberra Theatre
22-23 August 2012
Reviewed by Samara Purnell

The scene begins with the Master of Ceremonies of the Royal Court sporting surely the worst wig to have ever graced a stage. Thankfully (as it was becoming hard to stifle giggles), it is explained when great clumps of it are ripped off later in the scene.

The Imperial Russian Ballet Company, whose dancers are drawn from top ballet schools around Russia, performed Swan Lake in Canberra in 2009 and similar gripes surface with this performance of Sleeping Beauty as with Swan Lake: The corps, incorporating the widest range of physiques and statures I can recall seeing in a company of late, were sometimes out of sync with each other and the music, perhaps strange for a country known for its ballet dancers and its precision in the arts, as demonstrated lately in gym and synchronized swimming. And attention to detail let the production down in small part - slightly ill-fitting/made costumes, less than fantastic audio editing, split leaps that could have been higher.

This mostly traditional rendition of Sleeping Beauty does require decent stage space and at times it appeared the dancers were pulling up slightly to fit into the space available. There was some very strange acting especially from the King, Queen and Master of Ceremonies, and some odd costuming choices - at one point during the Second Act, it felt as though we had been transported to the bottom of an Irish rainbow, with leprechaun-looking lads clad in green jackets, tights and green flat topped hats.

Lina Seveliova is blessed with the biggest, prettiest blue eyes imaginable and her pretty face and vulnerability make her a very endearing Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty). She danced the lead role charmingly and proficiently. Radamara Nazarenko-Duminica was also a stand-out and executed her roles as Audacity and Princess Florine with maturity and confidence.

The prophesised spindle here has been replaced by a knitting needle, which means a hell of a to-do over anyone found knitting (stifles another giggle, having never seen such passion, enjoyment or fear over knitting before), but the actual pricking of the finger is over in a second and perhaps a missed opportunity for suitably placed drama.

Anna Pashkova was regal and graceful, making an alluring Lilac fairy. Having saved the Princess from death by casting a spell so she would fall into a deep sleep for 100 years, the First Act ended beautifully, with the Lilac fairy spinning en pointe, between the castle walls and the forest, as the curtain fell. Unfortunately, the spell was broken when out came some cast members, including the apparently not-so-sleeping Beauty herself, to take a bow – a little strange as the characters all appear in the next act. Perhaps this was to reassure any youngsters in the audience that all was well, should they not stay awake for the rest of the longish performance.

Act Two opened with the girls in pretty orange tutus and lovely lighting. During this Act, Prince Desire, fated to awaken the sleeping Princess, comes across the Lilac fairy, who puts him in a dream, where he sees Aurora. In the space of about five seconds, (the time it took to glance at the programme), Aurora had vanished, the Prince had stormed the castle, fought off the evil witch holding Sleeping Beauty captive, and Sleeping Beauty was awake, and dancing around the stage again! I whispered to my fellow reviewers “Did he even kiss her???” “Not that we saw” was the reply, “But then again, I did blink…”. A bit of a shame that again one of the highlights in the story was glossed over so quickly.

Nariman Bekzhanov danced Prince Desire and gave the strongest performance, with vigorous and confident solos. Most of the men, however, need to work on partnering as they looked tense and awkward. There was almost a sense of relief when turns and holds were completed. Perhaps the benefit of good seats means one is privy to any shaking or tension of the dancers in this case, as well as getting the feeling that at times the dancing seemed intellectualised, rather than natural, with obvious preparation before executing leaps, turns or lifts.

The girls had lovely expressive faces, connecting with the audience, but had less chemistry in their partner work. That said, the pas de trois in Act Two between Aurora, Desire and the Lilac fairy was beautifully done and quite enchanting.

The whole of the Act Three was entertaining, in particular the Fairytale characters of Puss in boots. The wedding pas de deux was truly lovely.

None of these criticisms should worry other than the most hardened of theatre goers or dancers, and definitely not the plethora of little ballerinas dolled up for a (late) night, sold-out treat at the theatre.

The performance lacked that attention to detail and excitement to take it from a nice and pretty traditional ballet to the “wow” factor. But for those who managed tickets to only two shows with a hefty ticket price, it was surely a pretty and enjoyable night out.