Melbourne Arts Centre, June 16
David McAllister's production of The Sleeping Beauty is a lavish extravaganza. The sets and the costumes designed by Gabriela Tylesova have a storybook splendour combined with the charm of Watteau and Fragonard paintings which gives them a, if not the, starring role. From the crimsons, ivories, golds, turquoises and pinks of the first act, to the shimmering green of the forest scene, to the final magnificence of the creams and golds (and glitter!) of Aurora's wedding; from the glass casket to the resplendent chandeliers; from the ornate tutus to the rococo splendour of the courtiers, the costumes and sets hold their own as protagonists of the show requiring larger than life personalities to stand up to them. At times they threatened to dwarf the dancers on stage who took on more of the role of accessories, but at other times, such as in the shimmering opening of Act II with the wood fairies melting into the forest glade, this could create an unforgettable picture.
In the principal roles Chengwu Guo shone as prince Désiré, unleashing his powerful leaps and perfectly centred turns in the variations while also engaging more fully with his character. Ako Kondo is a lovely accomplished Aurora who really came into her own in the last two acts. In the final grand pas de deux in particular there was a pleasing harmony of movement between Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo with good synchronicity of lines and phrasing culminating in perfectly timed fish dives.
Jade Wood as the Duchess/Florine and Brett Chynoweth as the Duke/Bluebird provided a clear highlight of the evening in the Bluebird pas de deux. Together they were a revelation, exhibiting lyrical expressivity, graceful strength, flexibility of the torso, beautiful arms, and an ability to shade their movements.The fairies were exquisitely assured in their variations though some excessively fast tempi made them look less polished in some of the subsequent sequences. It was good to see a strong and polished corps throughout.
Yet despite some memorable individual cameos this Beauty is definitely an ensemble show. Judged as a whole the last two acts are better than the Prologue and Act I in terms of structure, pacing and dramaturgical coherence. Although McAllister was at pains to provide a logical back story for the events around Carabosse who is here intentionally slighted by Catalabutte, the story still lacks an organizing centre. Back stories do not necessarily give characters credibility on stage, and the character of Carabosse, who is the dramatic lynchpin of the action, was missing a degree of menace, outrage and raw power to make her a credible opponent to the Lilac Fairy. Dramaturgically, sometimes it's not the logical or literal imperatives but the emotional symbolic ones which are primary for the internal coherence of a story and how it engages its audience, and this is what was still lacking. As it stands, all the events seem to take place on one flat plane with little foreground and background shading, while the incursion of evil and the darker elements of the story are sanitised and glossed over. There is little mystery and malevolence in the second act too where Carabosse and her minions are easily overcome by the Lilac Fairy.
A quibble with the third Act - it is stripped of all of its divertissements bar the Bluebird pas de deux. The other characters still turn up briefly but their presence just serves to remind one of what is missing - again, an element of disruption and spice underpinning the general celebration.
All in all, however, this Beauty features many beautiful moments and some glorious choreography which come together in a solid and enjoyable production.
Top: Ako Kondo & Chengwu Guo. Photo Jeff Busby.