English National Ballet: The Sleeping Beauty review – a way with the fairies

Coliseum, London
Absolute commitment and attention to detail make for a memorable Beauty at English National Ballet

It’s not the newest production in the world, nor the most lavish, but Kenneth MacMillan’s version of The Sleeping Beauty for English National Ballet gets so many things right. First and foremost, the cast’s attention to stylistic detail. To tell this fairy story convincingly you have to lead your audience into a particular and elaborate imaginative realm. If the conventions are not observed, the illusion never takes shape. In this production, everything comes together. The soft, leafy greens and misty golds of Peter Farmer’s painted set, Neil Austin’s numinous lighting, a heartfelt account of Tchaikovsky’s beautiful symphonic score from the orchestra under the baton of Gavin Sutherland, and dancing that, if at moments flawed, evinces an absolute commitment to classical style and stage manners.

Now 37, Alina Cojocaru is a joyously fine Princess Aurora, the filigree delicacy of her upper body work complemented by a singing line, and all of it wreathed in grandeur. Her Rose Adagio combines a sense of destiny with breathless teenage excitement. Her eyes shine, her gaze flickers to her mother (Jane Howarth) for approval, but her balances are steely and unwavering, stopping time in its tracks. Joseph Caley, as her prince, starts somewhat mutedly but warms up as the piece progresses, dancing the Act 3 variations with elegance and panache, and partnering Cojocaru with self-effacing chivalry. This is not a role that should be imbued with nostril-flaring swagger or idiosyncrasy. Caley gives it a hint of melancholy in Act 2, and thereafter relies on a quiet smile and scrupulous danse d’école. It’s more than enough.

Rina Kanehara in The Sleeping Beauty.
Rina Kanehara in The Sleeping Beauty. Photograph: Laurent Liotardo

Rina Kanehara has a good evening as the Fairy of the Golden Vine in the Prologue, and as Princess Florine in Act 3, combining attention to detail – fine épaulement, silvery wrists – with a disarmingly warm manner. Her Bluebird (Daniel McCormick) leaps with spring-heeled elan, if not always with precision, and would look better unencumbered by his sparkly tiara. Making her debut as the Lilac Fairy, Shiori Kase is expansive and benevolent, unhurriedly secure in her technique. With experience, there’s no doubt that she’ll acquire the authority and command that the role also demands. As it is she’s overshadowed by James Streeter’s fabulously vicious Carabosse, who prowls the stage with the sallow features and madly crimped hair of a vengeful Tudor queen.

The night’s finest cameo performance is furnished by Katja Khaniukova, as the Fairy of the Enchanted Garden. Like Cojocaru, Khaniukova was trained at the Kiev state ballet school in Ukraine, and embodies the classical manner in every move she makes. Here, with her sunny gaze and quietly perfect line, she’s as light as a dandelion seed in the breeze, phrasing her turns and balances with serene exactitude. Individual performances don’t all achieve this level of assurance, but watching the company you’re struck by the sense of striving that its artistic director, Tamara Rojo, and her teachers have inculcated. You can see the concentration on the placement of arms and shoulders, on the expressiveness of wrists and hands, on the line of the neck and the precise direction of gaze. This striving is heartening, moving and a cause for celebration.

• The Sleeping Beauty is at the Coliseum, London, until 16 June


Luke Jennings

The GuardianTramp

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