It became apparent to me on this, my second viewing, that Team Ratmansky and Doug Fullington’s reconstruction of this ballet is something of a master-work. Genuinely fairy-tale like, it has an unashamed aspiration to be beautiful. Some would say it is High Art and I agree. It is importantly, crafted with love.
It is perhaps no surprise that the artistic milieu that brought us the Fabergé egg created this ballet for Imperial audiences.
This reconstructed ballet is, then, a treasure all can appreciate. As with Fabergé one revels in the immediacy of the colours first of all, and in the richness of the object. Sets and staging, costuming are all glorious. On closer inspection the details emerge: the fine guiloché of Petipa’s grand symmetrical floor plans, the careful, finely shaded steps, the individual gems of his set pieces that charm and delight the whole work an object of great richness*.
For all its splendours and ornateness the piece (like those famous eggs) is not ostentatious: the works are marked by that well-integrated and finely polished loving hand of craft, not even signed or stamped embossed: the signature is in the work itself. Ratmansky and Petipa’s surety of touch delivers a wonderful artistic confection. It is true that as with Fabergé’s output, this ballet has been created at commission, but as with Fabergé that fact is immaterial: the craft and care show through. Artisanship and artifice as their own end.
Nowhere did this come through better than in the Prologue: the fairies have emerged and presented themselves before the King and Queen (and of course, baby Beauty herself: link here). Four cavaliers (a foreshadowing of Aurora’s marriage rite de passage?) emerge. Lilac Fairy’s theme begins. Three clusters in rings form around a fairy each, and all relevé as one, orbit in circles around their fairy, to beguile the eye’s sense of unity and symmetry. Larger circles develop and contract in orderly pattern and time, and to close the piece, a line of lilac attendants all pose at the front of the stage to complete the eye picture. (This is the conquest of Time and Space – life given order – before it was realised the depth of those same subtle unified entities.)
Nowhere have I seen that moment make more sense than here. It is pure Petipa, modest – quaint by our standards, but fitting and perfectly given here. Elsewhere it appears rather dated and a little out of place.
Watching Ratmansky’s Beauty is a continual revelation like this. It is rather like listening to old dialects of a language one speaks: this is still ballet, but in an older form: in inflection and accent “older” but still comprehensible and lovable. One thinks back to Crystal and his son speaking Shakespeare. And as with their project, we recognise the familiar, and are curiously delighted by that which is subtly different.
My previous post noted some of these changes. With less extreme exaggeration of bodily inflection (softer limbs, no legs up to ears) the whole accent of moment is changed. Too, others have noted that Ashton’s choreography is a direct derivation from this style. Certainly he must have encountered remnants of the style when he became the director of Vic Wells ballet: they also used Stepanov notation as source text. Removing those huge extensions is a brave new frontier for our Aurora, Svetlana Zakharova who is famed for her huge leg to head extensions). More time is given to poise and poses. The arms are less changed, as arm movement was absent from the notebooks.
Nicoletta Manni was our Lilac Fairy tonight, and I thought she was better there than as Aurora. She displayed a lovely lightness of movement, especially in her arms.This quality was well shown when she was shifting position for her first tricky variation. However as the night before, I was not quite convinced by her portrayal. More of the character needs to emerge beyond just the mime as written and a smile.
Things improved in Act I, Zakharova’s Aurora which I have always felt was rather too technical at expense of being personable was more a human character than I have seen her before.
Her Rose Adagio was especially marked by maturity of experience both in acting and execution. When told by her parents to dance, the true dilemma of the ballet (a reading so often lost) became apparent. Momentary doubt crossed her face. She plucked her skirt briefly as if to say “they’ve dressed me, it is their special day and mine I suppose, and so I must dance” and gave in. The music especially moved me greatly, and the dancing helped. Zakharova showed here and in her variations, surprisingly gentle port de bras. Having to abandon her more athletic extensions seemed only to highlight the softness and grace she already has in her upper body.
There was also a wonderful musicality of phrasing in evidence. Those arms gathered notes and shaped lines, hands shaded sounds and feet gave visible rhythm to Tchaikovsky’s score. The way she held and developed lines of music, (and her own line) was truly splendid to see and qualitively beautiful too.
I did find one lift, with the legs not fully stretched but in a kind of “V” pattern slightly jarring (this lift replace the moment when Aurora is lifted almost into the lighting rig by about four cavaliers) but again, one imagines Ratmansky being true to the books. I also noted excellent use of her eyes and chin to place and accent her hands and fingers.
Later on her “spindle dance” stood out, and her first fall on pricking her finger was great. I have a wonderful memory of her from that night: she faces her partner who in fact faces us, and slowly she bends backwards into a deep back-bend cambre, en pointe, with no support. This was truly breath-holding stuff and classy too. The man beside me let out little chuckles of delight throughout. This all added up to a an Aurora worth searching for.
Let me mention too the corps of the Teatro alla Scala’s ballet dancers who in their garland dance and throughout the whole ballet were wonderful. Their reactions to Carabosse and the giant were excellent too, amplifying the often thin drama of the libretto. The children of the school were tremendous in their little moments (as rows of Raphaelesque rennaisance children bowing small violins, or as viol plucking maidens or as ragazzi evading a mean old giant in Act IV, and as the hideous medieval, Broschian underlings of Carabosse’s retinue, all very well done.) Three children also must pose in Lilac Fairy’s boat in Act II and I truly thought one was a marionette – until it moved! Indeed three of these boys have to support Aurora in arabesque in turn as she dances her Rose Adagio. Excellent coaching, and well performed.
Carabosse himself was the excellent Massimo Murru, who gobbled up the stage with his eyes, striding around it and corrupting the fairytale with Carabosse’s malevolence.
As our Prince we were scheduled to have David Hallberg, who dropped out, who was replaced by
Sergei Polunin, who dropped out, to be replacd by recent 2014 graduate of La Scala, Jacopo Tissi, who stayed. He was a solid partner for Zakharova and they had good chemistry. In his acting he convinced as a lonely prince: his distance from the revelries was keenly drawn in Act II. As an enchanted lover, he showed ardency in satisfying measure.
The solo variations he performed had a little too much “explosive quality” in his arms, which could do with more refinement or serenity especially in his entrechats and on one or two of his partnering positions he seemed to rush mirroring/developing lines with Zakharova (an arm shot out late at one point, just as quickly withdrawn). His search for Aurora in the castle was pretty good, and their union too. Less defined in his tours and jetés than Andrijashenko, he nevertheless did a fine job for one so young. Bravo.
Bluebird was Angelo Greco, who oddly didn’t quite have the fluttering arms down to my liking for his partnered moments, but in his variations he showed he was more than capable of shaping them well. (I really loved Bluebrid’s headdress by the way.) Vittoria Valero was his princess and her sunny smile and cheer illuminated their partnership. To see this choreography twice in as many days really highlighted Ratmansky’s changes. And to see Maria Celeste Losa again, as replacement Diamond gemstone was a lovely treat.
The orchestra under Vladimir Fedoseyev sounded better than the previous night, but there was the same lethargy for the final scene which rather underwhelmed.
One would hope, along with Ratmansky, for further use of the ‘Stepanov’ style from notebooks. If not for the recovery of old steps and ways of doing, then perhaps as a exploration of the style. Source material is too shallow for a true ‘Historically Informed Performance’ movement to begin within ballet. This is not the baroque, with much written down.
Nevertheless what a pleasure to see Ratmansky’s vision done justice. And not just his:
Petipa’s vision sleeps no more. Watching the production is like seeing a storybook fairytale come alive. It is a Sleeping Beauty to treasure.
- As (I think, though I may be misattributing) Doug Fullington informs us, It is perhaps no surprise that Balanchine, a pupil of the same ballet school, wrote a non narrative ballet called Jewels. The source material would have become part of his growing up, to inform his older self.
I would also like to sum up by referring to first night’s review: if there’s one thing I felt, it was that in this Sleeping Beauty the politesse of ballet has been reinstated, or at least reasserted. A worthwhile artistic project indeed.