State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne – until 27 June 2017
Returning to the Melbourne stage less than two years after its premiere, David McAllister’s production of The Sleeping Beauty can be appreciated not just for its luxuriously lavish staging but also for the wonderful range of supporting roles on offer.
In a boon for lovers of the great Tchaikovsky ballets, The Sleeping Beauty opens in Melbourne only a fortnight after the return of Nutcracker – The Story of Clara. The juxtaposition of these two productions cannot help but highlight the differing approaches of the creative teams at their helm. Whereas Graeme Murphy infused Nutcracker with inspired imagination and heartrending humanity, McAllister has staged a highly traditional The Sleeping Beauty, updated visually with a sumptuous sparkle.
Even after just a short period, during which time a beautifully filmed recording has also been screened, Gabriela Tylesova’s dazzling designs are as impactful and impressive as ever. Tylesova’s first ever tutus are not just coloured exquisitely but are cleverly created to sit softly at the waist and then fluffily expand as they fill with air during movement.
The generous budget for the production, the bulk of which was raised through philanthropy, allows Tylesova to reach a quality of staging that far exceeds the crinkled painted backdrops of old. The carefully considered combination of costumes and scenery creates a delectable blend of colour in each scene. Tylesova highlights the 100-year sleep of Aurora with a striking jump from the grand Baroque of court to the smart Edwardian wear of the Prince’s hunting party.
If there was an extra oomph to the applause for conductor Nicolette Fraillon on opening night, it came from knowledgeable patrons who had been thrilled by this week’s news that Fraillon had been honoured as a Member of the Order (AM). Fraillon led Orchestra Victoria in a reliably pristine performance, which was garnished with lovely highlights from percussion.
McAllister knows his company well, and has provided a wealth of work here for the dancers. Each of the Senior Artists, and a great many Soloists, enhance the various sets of featured roles with their considerable flair and finesse. Chief amongst these are the six Fairies, who not only dance with delightful grace but also have an extra element of camaraderie in their combination. Dimity Azoury (Joy), Natasha Kusen (Grace), Sharni Spencer (Generosity), Brooke Lockett (Musicality) and Dana Stephenson (Temperament) each create distinct characters and dance with a beauty that is sure to inspire the next generation of young dancers in the audience. Leading the charismatic coterie as the Lilac Fairy is Amy Harris, who brings a palpable sense of warmth and wisdom over and above her delicate lightness in the role.
The Fairies’ Cavaliers, the Princes and Prince Désiré’s Friends are all splendidly cast, providing a multitude of opportunities for the dancers to shine. Ever expressive dancer Brett Chynoweth delivers wonderful work as Bluebird, keeping the character in constant fluid birdlike motion and dancing the deceptively difficult role with effortless lightness underpinned by steely strength. Chynoweth is ably partnered by Jade Wood as Princess Florine, the pair stopping the show during Aurora’s Wedding, the cherished third act of the ballet.
Having memorably played Bluebird and Florine at the 2015 premiere, perfectly matched Principal Artists Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo open the return season of The Sleeping Beauty as Princess Aurora and Prince Désiré. Kondo beams with burgeoning beauty at Aurora’s birthday, later contrasting this with the more downcast vision of Aurora that is shown to the Prince. Indeed, the pair gives arguably the best performance of act two’s apparition scene, achingly conveying the thwarted yearning of the Prince and the dreamlike sorrow of the Princess.
Kondo takes the Rose Adagio very carefully and slowly, performing the fiendishly difficult sequence successfully but diminishing its impact ever so slightly. Nonetheless, Kondo’s dancing across the night is enchantingly lovely.
Imbuing the deliberately slow beginning of their final pas de deux with tender affection, Kondo and Guo go on to raise the stakes as their climactic series of dances increases in pace, and their set of fish dives are nothing short of exquisite. Guo thrills the crowd with a pair of spectacular solos that brilliantly demonstrate his flawless technique and the incredible control he has over his astonishing strength.
Succeeding at its aim for spectacle, the magical effect of The Sleeping Beauty on young viewers must be quite extraordinary.