Music – Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Set and Costume Design – Kristian Fredrikson
Lighting Design – John Rayment
Fairytales are one of the few things that we seem to hold dear to us though we may grow beyond their scope. The stories have something special about them that allows them to transcend trends and technology, told again and again to the same adolescent glow, the same childhood inquisitions about every detail, every logistical fact. Yet, as we grow, though we retain our knowledge, we lose the details. We forget that Goldilocks sat in the chairs between the courage and bed, we forget about the woodsman who saves Red Riding Hood’s Grandma. The stories hold true but their intricacies fade, like anything else, to the inevitable passage of time.
Watching the Australian Ballet’s performance of Sleeping Beauty was like having my childhood coloured in; the notions of good and evil, love in both its true and unrequited forms. They have done an amazing job of bringing the story to life, with a Bollywood meets Arabian twist, the costumes are purely stunning, an array of colours to match the bleakly beautiful dress of Carabosse and her ensemble. The stage sparkles with silver and gold as we are brought into a world of enchantment and wonder, both elaborate and undeniably natural. The cats and rats (possibly borrowed from the Nutcracker earlier this year) brought nuance to both Lilac and Carabosse’s opposing worlds of fortune, and one will not easily forget the walking trees, tin men, marionettes or Russian dolls any time soon. Such things brought a phantasmic intricacy to what could be easily delegated to simplicity.
It is not merely the intricacy of portrayal which allows these creatures the favourable nature with which I recall their merry pirouettes, but indeed the way in which the show focuses upon them. Without any knowledge of the plot, one could easily conceive of Canari Fairy (Halaina Hills) and Bluebird (Daniel Gaudiello) as main characters. These two dancers, though cast in supporting roles, brought such great fervour and avian spark that one would be content to have them featured as the Prince and Beauty of the animal world. It is obvious as to why they were not cast in the main roles, as their avian choreography allowed for a quirky expression with which they were obviously attuned. Halaina Hills, appearing first, has her wing imitation down to a tee, flittering her fingertips in skipping delight, flirtatiously floating above the natural splendour of spring. When Daniel Gaudiello arrives, at first briefly, and then for longer passages, he leaps effortlessly across the stage, perfectly expressing the wonder and grace of flight, matched with great control and poise. The winking delight which encapsulates these two then transferred itself to the two cats (Natasha Kusen and Ben Davis), and finally to the wooden courtiers, marionette-esque in their vaudevillian show, with all of these magnificent creatures sparkling uniquely in this explosively colourful world.
Conversely, the character of Carabosse, performed with seamless ice-cold flourish by Lana Jones, was the show-stopper, whether incognito and resembling the wicked witch in Snow White, her black sequined shawl glistening in the moonlit night, or shining like the great White Witch in her icy kingdom, she danced with grace and an incredibly convincing power, dominating scenes with her strength and forceful condition.
My main criticism is in the way that elements of story have been sidelined. Sleeping Beauty (Aurora) for all intents and purposes is awake again just five minutes after her deathly slumber, and though they do feature together, there is little exploration of the love story which supposedly wakes her from her fate. Although brilliantly cast, The Prince as a character appears to be arbitrarily chosen as one chooses a supermarket. That is, the closest one open for business will do. At times, Miwako Kubota, a Japanese dancer cast interestingly within the Indian/Arabian/Russian treatment, appeared not to have the strength to carry off the choreography flawlessly. There is an intense focus in the direction on Aurora as statuesque, calling for her to hold poses for long periods of time, but the physically demanding nature of such focus saw Miwako Kubota shaking with muscle tension, and a few times even losing her footing upon completion. In this regard, the feature choreography could make a statement of power and control, but instead seemed to be an ostentatious show of physical prowess. Rather than make difficult things look easy, as is often a more powerful approach, her performance showed the difficult manoeuvres as they are. Though it is in some realms considered commendable to undertake the seemingly impossible, Sleeping Beauty is not that vessel, given its themes of love, magic and, above all, silent rest.
Sleeping Beauty, though directed closer to a recital than its narrative-driven 2009 season counterpart, The Nutcracker is a wonderful array of amazing set and costume design, stunning supporting characters, all timed to the breathtaking compositions of Tchaikovsky. For lovers of dance, it is a must see, though those audience members coming across from Opera may be best to wait for something which comes closer to the triumph that was the Ballet’s portrayal of The Nutcracker.
The Sleeping Beauty runs at The Sydney Opera House until December 23rd, 2009
Miwako Kubota – Aurora
Luke Ingham – Prince Florimund
Carabosse – Lana Jones
Tzu-Chao Chou – Prince Florestan
Halaina Hills – Canari Fairy
Daniel Gaudiello – Bluebird