Dance, Reviews, Stage

Sleeping Beauty ballet review (Arts Centre, Melbourne)

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Romantic rose ceremonies are now part of pop-culture thanks to reality TV’s The Bachelor. But The Sleeping Beauty ballet is where you’ll find the original real-deal in single-stem suspense.

At her 16th birthday celebration, Princess Aurora balances on one leg, on pointe, in a tricky-to-hold ‘attitude’ position, while greeting a line-up of handsome Princes – each vying for her love.

Every eye was on Principal Artist Ako Kondo on Friday as she performed this feat of endurance on opening night of The Australian Ballet’s new production in Melbourne.

TAB 22THE SLEEPING BEAUTY_Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo. Photo Jeff Busby
Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo. Photo: Jeff Busby

Suspense was high, but she took the flowers without wavering, and it was clear we were in for a display of superb skill.

This famed ‘Rose Adage’ sequence was just one of many remarkable feats Kondo accomplished, and when her co-star Chengwu Guo (as Prince Désiré) appeared, the pair were unstoppable. Their ability to breeze through multiple turns, vast leaps and precise partner work – topped with their genuine rapport – was superb to watch.

The stars were well supported by an up-and-coming cast of dancers from the company’s ranks. The choreography (updated from Marius Petipa’s version by the company’s Artistic Director David McAllister in 2015) gives individuals time in the limelight. Notable were the solos of the Fairies, with each crafted to accentuate the speed, lyricism or drama of Tchaikovsky’s famous musical score.

Leading the ladies was Senior Artist Amy Harris as the Lilac Fairy, exuding the matchmaker’s characteristics of empathy and kindness. As the Fairy of Joy, Dimity Azoury stood out for her energy and precision, while Natasha Kusen artfully embodied the Fairy of Grace.

Brett Chynoweth took allegro to new heights as the Bluebird, ‘flying’ across the stage with complicated jumping sequences and the large group dances at the christening, birthday and wedding were effortlessly joyous.

But the standard of dance almost paled against the stunning set and colourful Louis IV-inspired costumes designed by Gabriela Tylesova.

Three mesmerising chandeliers dropped from the ceiling in the final wedding scene which was topped off with falling golden confetti. The sumptuous costumes included delicately bouncing tutus, dramatic capes and glamorous gowns.

The only questionable aspect of the production is the one thing that is hard to alter – the narrative.

The fairytale of a young beauty cursed to sleep by a wicked fairy until she is woken by a Prince’s kiss is entrenched in our cultural memory but bringing it to life in the context of 2017 debate around gender equality inevitably raises questions. Should we still revere the happy-ever-after tale, in which beauty, wealth and traditional societal norms prevail? Is it acceptable to feel joy when a 16-year-old girl is married off?  Or is it OK to surrender to this imaginary world without judgment, as a counter to today’s 24-7 news barrage of terror and tragedy?

To get the most out of this delightful version of The Sleeping Beauty, it’s worth taking the last option. Take the rose, suspend reality, soak up the dance. You’ll awake to real life soon enough.

[box]Main image: Lynette Wills and the artists of the Australian Ballet. Photo by Jeff Busby. Sleeping Beauty is at the Arts Centre Melbourne until June 27 [/box]

5 responses to “Sleeping Beauty ballet review (Arts Centre, Melbourne)

  1. I think it is justified to question all the same, as it may be the time to reinvent the plot, not discard it, to have a significance in this age.

    1. Great point Louise, thanks for commenting. Agree – while it is great to celebrate the classics, some of the old narratives focus on values that don’t sit so well in a modern context!

      1. Keep political correctness out of art, especially from classical ballet and opera! Plenty around as it is.

  2. Always on your bandwagon some of you. You have the future,leave the past alone. You can’t and shouldn’t try to change it.. How will we learn if it’s not from history.

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