Chelmsford Ballet Company’s Sleeping Beauty is a charming affair, and whilst it may not (nor should it) have the same technical standards of for instance, the Royal Ballet, its intent is the same and it is noble: to edify, to entertain, to promote the joy of dance. This it does and does well. From all, there were smiles. From dancers, dedication was apparent, visible, inspiring. From non- dancer to advanced skill level, this creation of dance warmed the small stage of the Chelmsford Civic Theatre.
It helped that from principal and lead roles, the dancing was game, and more than that, it was impressive. Scarlett Mann‘s Aurora was delightfully acted and strongly danced. I gather she is still young, very much in Aurora’s age-range. Her petulance at being asked by her mother to hand over the dangerous spindle was memorably done, her joy at impending matrimony lit up her face – and the stage too. I liked her sunny renversés, and was especially impressed with her use of the eyes to spot each potential placement. Each ascent of arm and leg was anticipated by that sophisticated, essential almost “spotting”, the steps given greater life as a result.
As Prince Florimund, support was ably given from Andrei Iliescu. All pirouettes were secure in his hands, and tour de promenades glowed with security and confidence. I liked Ms Mann’s light port de bras, especially in positioning for turns. In fact, she exuded confidence throughout, and even though towards the end, where I guessed she might perhaps be tiring a bit, she never gave less than everything of herself for the role, and her easy smile didn’t fade.
I had wondered if the famous Rose Adagio would have been modified to fit any skill-set the dancer had. Not too noticeably in fact. The chivalry was present and correct from all cavaliers (a gentleman in white trous noticeably fine in his reverence). The famous balances, the high reaching feet, the slow pirouettes were all in place and well given. The grand Pas then? Was that subject to major changes? Some: I was happy to see no fishdives, and in fact, so too I was happy not to have fouettés for fouettés sake.
Costumes were wonderfully lavish, all courtiers looked well appointed and the principals’ outfits were a delight, and would have been whatever stage they graced: nicely sparkling, gleaming in pure white and gold. Fairy costumes were well made, with Lilac Fairy’s given good care and attention, apparent even from my balcony seat. Fairytale characters were vividly clothed and if fey, appropriately garbed. Wolf was for instance, far better costumed than the production I saw a week ago. Notable were Bluebird’s delightful “wings”, and in fact Florine’s outfit entire. If these were not hired-in clothes then, seamstresses of Chelmsford and beyond, tailors hunched over costumes nightly, I salute you! Standout too were the many pseudo-Hungarian(?) garbed corps for the final act; Carabosse’s costume and all supernumeraries, right down to the delightful little “sprites” and Carabosse’s devilish entourage.
I must also now mention here how utterly charming it was to see stage-going stars so young perform so well, and with seriousness and enjoyment. Little sprites perhaps no more than five years old lent charm and mercurial delight to Act II’s vision sequence, the choreography of which, with ranks of fairies indicating the direction for Prince to go, I thought well made and executed. The narrative sense of this scene came through clearly. It was a nice conceit to have the Prince sit on stage and be lost in thought, only for the woodland spirits to flit around him unnoticed. The show was full of these ingenious moments serving to advance the drama, ingenious because to solve questions of what to do with dancers who aren’t all world class super-athletes, and the more so for being subtle, innovative and successful.
It was lovely to see for instance, from another well done assemblage of fairies, the individual fairy variations carefully choreographed to suit strengths. I was impressed by each. “Force” Fairy was sharply pointed and sprightly, “Canary” Fairy delightfully ebullient, and “Breadcrumb” Fairy notable for her accurate pointe-attack and upper body control. Lilac Fairy herself had a tiny wobble very close to the start of her show, which I think affected her confidence for a bit, but she recovered well, to bring us a fairy of poise and class. Brava. Admirable performances in all ways, especially from dancers so young.
The shared enjoyment from all was palpable. At all “feats” and displays of skill, the assembled onlookers did a wonderful job of amplifying the action by interested hand gestures, “talking” to one another, a sight very fine to see.The garland dance featured a similar level of complex, en masse work which was good to see from all. Excellent lighting served to illustrate the scenes well, and I was very taken for once by the clever use of video projection to suggest Lilac Fairy’s descending enchantment. I will remember her bourrée-ing almost into eternity as the vines grew around the Kingdom for a long time. Too, the ensemble had one of the best “chaos” scenes post finger-pricking I have seen from a Sleeping Beauty production, and not because the stage at the Civic is so small but due to the director’s careful stagecraft and I am quite sure, the hard work of rehearsal.
When the Prince finally arrived at the castle and awoke the princess, dramatic tension was milked, successfully. A pause, post-kiss. No reaction. Had the spell failed? No! She awoke, and the reaction from all was excellent. The fairytale creatures variations followed, and I enjoyed Bluebird’s soft landings, his dedication to each phrase and statement. There was briefly, even a rather daring flying catch successfully executed, and a surprise to see. As with the Prince, this Bluebird was a safe pair of hands with his charge, partnering secure throughout. There was good unity from all”gem” fairies, the Sapphire and Silver Fairies notable for their maturity of expression and technique. I very much enjoyed Wolf’s jumps and Red Riding Hood’s characterisation, and it was a great idea to include a tiny mouse into the “cat” pas de deux*.
I think back fondly on Ms Mann’s variation from the Grand Pas, the “unwinding hands” lithe and travels en pointe graceful, he r eyes again lending weight and dramatic force to the text. The matrimonial scene was suitably grand, Aurora coming back on-stage in a very long veil complete with two veil holders, and the ending pose – a long held arabesque en pointe for Aurora – was a brave choice, and winningly deployed.
I was thoroughly charmed by this show, it had a sense of real community enterprise but more than that, it was a thoroughgoing joy. The Chelmsford Ballet Company state they “are an amateur company who set professional standards for all our work”. “Amateur” is after all derived from a word for “heart” and too means to show a love of the doing and the achieving. With this Sleeping Beauty, Chelmsford Ballet achieved and achieved with heart. I applaud you all.
*All credit to the makeup department for some fantastic cat make up!
Chelmsford Ballet’s site