Sunday, January 15, 2023

THE SLEEPING BEAUTY _ Storytime Ballet.


Choreography: Marius Petipa – Music: Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Production and additional choreography: David McAllister.

Creative Associate: Nicolette Fraillon – Costume and Set Design: Hugh Colman

Lighting Design: Jon Buswell.

Canberra Theatre Playhouse: 13th – 15th January 2023.

Performance on 13th January reviewed by Bill Stephens

The Australian Ballet’s Storytime Ballet is one of the most eagerly anticipated dance events each year for young dance enthusiasts of a certain age, because these productions are designed to introduce children as young as three to the magical world of classical ballet.

Particularly admirable about these adaptations is how cleverly they retain all the essential elements of the original, capture much of the magic and are perfectly pitched at their target audience so that they work equally well as an inspirational experience for budding young dancers and as a charming introduction for the uninitiated to the often mysterious world of classical ballet

Because these productions utilise costumes and props from earlier Australian Ballet productions, in this case, Maina Gielgud’s splendid 1984 production of “The Sleeping Beauty” for which Hugh Colman was the designer, they also offer an irresistible opportunity to older balletomanes to renew acquaintances with some of the beautiful costumes created for the Australian Ballet’s most memorable past productions.

This Storytime Ballet production of “The Sleeping Beauty” was first seen on the Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse stage in 2016. For this version, David McAllister, in collaboration with Nicolette Fraillon, had skilfully reduced the original three-act ballet into a nicely judged fifty minute version.

Performed in a fairy-tale setting designed by Hugh Coleman and utilising Coleman’s   gorgeous storybook costumes, ten graduate dancers from the company perform artfully truncated excerpts of Petipa’s original choreography to the recorded orchestral accompaniment of Tchaikovsky’s familiar music.

Sean McGrath as Catalbutte in the Storytime Ballet production of "The Sleeping Beauty"

While the dancers change each year, narrator, Sean McGrath, remains a constant, who keeps the young audience informed as to exactly what is happening throughout the ballet. This year in the role of the Prince’s private secretary, Catalabutte, he provides a witty and informative narration.

Having perfected the skill of communicating with his young audience in a way that involves them in the action from the very first moments, McGrath takes care to speak clearly and concisely, stays on script and in character, as he encourages the young theatre-goers into enthusiastic unselfconscious involvement, to assist him create magic by waving their wands or wriggling their fingers at appropriate times.

His engagement with even the youngest members was so strong, that they groaned sympathetically when he was berated by the King (Dann Wilkinson) for forgetting to invite Carabosse (Chantelle van der Hoek) to the christening of the baby Aurora.  

They went frantic trying to warn him of the presence of evil fairy Carabosse (Chantelle van de Hoek) lurking with intent at Aurora’s fateful sixteenth birthday celebrations. They giggled uncontrollably at his snoring, prior to the arrival of the handsome Prince (William Humphries) to awaken Aurora (Hannah Lukey) after her hundred-year doze.

The choreography, although truncated, is charmingly and meticulously danced by the cast of emerging young dancers, under the watchful eye of Ballet Master, Paul Knobloch. Among each audience is the possibility some may discover a future favourite dancer whose career they will follow, as the result of having seen them dance in this, their first, ballet experience.

The Queen and Aurora in the Storytime Ballet production of "The Sleeping Beauty". 

Perhaps it might be Hanna Lukey, dazzling as Aurora in the costume Colman created for Christine Walsh, when she danced that role in the 1984 production. Or it might be Bella Collishaw, all warmth and elegance as the Queen, who’s already mastered the art of skilfully displaying her magnificent costume.

It might be Amber Alston, delicate and sprightly in her bright yellow tutu as the Canari Fairy, or Sophie Burke as the elegant Lilac Fairy, or maybe it will be the buoyant dancing of Sophie Wormald as the Fairy of Joy, that stays in their memory.

Carabosse in the Storytime Ballet production of "The Sleeping Beauty"

It could be the flair of Chantelle van de Hoek, dancing in that remarkable black and red costume Coleman created for the vindictive Carabosse; the elegance of Cieren Edinger as Prince Charming or even that frightening wolf danced by Alexander Mitchell, which will become a favourite memory.

Should you have the opportunity to attend a Storytime Ballet performance plan to arrive early, in time to experience the excitement of the hundreds of tiny ballerinas, princesses, and quite a few young princes, who on arrival at the theatre,  quickly discover  the dress-up room where they try on some of the gorgeous costumes and big girl ballet shoes thoughtfully provided by the ballet company, while mums, grannies and grandads purchase magic wands, tiaras, and swords as essential souvenirs before hurrying into the theatre.

Make sure you give yourself time to take in the small display of original  Hugh Colman costumes created for the 1984 production, but not used in the Storytime version, then linger a little after the performance to experience the excited chatter among the young audience as it  spills out into the foyer afterwards.   If you haven’t a young prince or princess of your own, beg, borrow or steal a couple from your neighbour and give yourself a treat.

                                                           Images by Jeff Busby

This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.