Playhouse, Qld Performing Arts Centre
Reviewed June 4
The Sleeping Beauty was supposed to be a feature of Queensland Ballet’s 60th anniversary celebrations in 2020. Instead, in this delayed season, Greg Horsman’s beautifully realised interpretation of the ballet is serendipitously celebrating its 10th year anniversary. Originally produced for Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2011, Queensland Ballet first staged it in 2015, in a sell-out season with guest artists including Alina Cojocaru. This time it is a strictly local affair.
Horsman situates The Sleeping Beauty firmly in fairyland, encouraging the viewer to suspend all belief as, with a deft but light touch, he whimsically reimagines some of the characters, adding humour and a good dose of the requisite magic, including a fire-breathing dragon, into the mix. For the purists the signature sections of choreography thankfully remain firmly Petipa’s – challenging and revealing in their classic simplicity, with none of the embellishment often added in other productions.
The ballet is constructed neatly into two acts – a short prologue dramatically setting up the christening scene – while many of the wedding scene divertissements are omitted. Princess Florine (usually of the Bluebirds) becomes Lady Florine (Sophie Zoricic), a flirtatious white feline who with Catalabutte (Rian Thompson) – also a cat, but of the moggy variety – anchors the ballet by appearing in all acts.
Set and costumes are equally sumptuous, both designed by Gary Harris. The opening christening scene of cream gothic architecture has soaring arches hung with heraldic flags, in a perfect foil to the rich velvets and brocades of the Elizabethan-styled courtier costumes.
There are five rather than the usual six fairies, in soft tutus to the knee, long hair gathered off the face with a flowered garland. All five – Yanela Piñera, Serena Green, Laura Tosar, Mia Heathcote and Chiara Gonzales – showed crisp, light footwork and beautifully framed ports de bras in their individual solos. The fairies are also a constant throughout the ballet, dancing later as the Friends of Aurora in different costumes of the same colours, and again in the wedding scene when the pas de quatre is revised as a pas de six.
Piñera was commanding as Wisdom, the Lilac Fairy, settling into the role in the second act. She was a terrific foil to the evil Carabosse, the role danced with malevolent conviction by Georgia Swan.
Lucy Green and Kohei Iwamoto gave a sparkling interpretation of the Bluebird Pas de Deux, although the luridly blue costumes still don’t flatter. Green showed a softer, more fluid use of the upper body and arms than usually seen in the role, while Iwamoto tossed off six de volé with impeccable precision.
Zoricic and Thompson were delightful as Lady Florine and Catalabutte, especially in the comedic delivery of the Puss in Boots duet. The repeated antics of Catalabutte in the wedding scene as he chases the Bluebird reminded me again, however, that with comedy less is often more.
Newly appointed Principal Artist Neneka Yoshida danced the role of Princess Aurora, in an interpretation that clearly showed Aurora’s journey from a shy 16-year-old to a woman in love. Beautifully framed balances, immaculate phrasing and detailed, light as-a-feather footwork helped to deliver a spine-tingling Rose Adage.
Principal Victor Estévez (a guest artist in 2015) was a poised, dignified Prince Désiré in a technically secure performance, while both dancers delivered the Wedding Pas de Deux with panache. From an explosive series of fish dives to its furiously fast coda, they created a thrilling climax to the ballet.
Undeniably in this ballet there is nowhere to hide, with first night jitters maybe contributing to unevenness in some of the group work along with noisy set changes. Nerves notwithstanding, this revitalised interpretation of the iconic ballet is indeed a “beauty” and should have broad audience appeal. Running until June 19, it could be another sell-out season.
– DENISE RICHARDSON
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