There’s an unwritten law in the ballet world that a company should field a minimum of 70 dancers in order to perform the classics. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet does The Sleeping Beauty with 29, but still manages to show off its classical chops.
The ballet is one of the three great works with magnificent scores by Tchaikovsky, the other two being Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. Of the three, The Sleeping Beauty is considered the most glittering in Russian imperial style, with enough solo roles to really show off depth in the ranks.
RWB first brought Beauty into the repertoire in 1993 to keep its then reigning ballerina Evelyn Hart happy – meaning, to give this treasured dancer a chance to perform the classics on her own turf. Now 20 years on, the company has laid Hart’s ghost to rest by developing dancers who can carry Beauty and its challenges into future generations.
The choreography remains very true to the Petipa original with the principal staging done by senior ballet master Johnny W. Chang with help from former and current dancers. This is a production with no surprises.
Amanda Green and Dmitri Dovgoselets were Princess Aurora and Prince Désiré, respectively, and both put in fine performances, although they could use some fire in the belly. In fact, the whole company could use some zip. The Sleeping Beauty was there in fact, if not in spirit, Green has very well-developed leg muscles, which are the source of her strength. She is a powerful dancer with precise placement. She exudes confidence, and in turn, inspires an audience. We are secure in the knowledge that Green will sail through the role and its difficulties, including the famous first act Rose Adagio. (In the latter, the ballerina poses precariously on one toe shoe while changing partners, her hand going to each man in turn.)
Kiev-born Dovgoselets has the Russian training needed to toss off the showy tricks inherent in imperial-style classical ballet. He’s a little short for Green on point, but he proved to be a very good partner, particularly with his seemingly ease with lifts. He also has a lightness in his landings. Some chemistry between Green and Dovgoselets would have been nice, however.
The third act Bluebird pas de deux is one of the most famous divertissements in classical ballet. Yosuke Mino is a dancing dynamo who managed to be both graceful and athletic in the role’s never-ending series of jumps. Alanna McAdie as a brightly smiling Princess Florine brought clarity to her intricate footwork.
As per tradition, the evil fairy Carabosse was played by a man, in this case, Thiago Dos Santos, who threw himself into the role in high camp mode. His face, perhaps, was a little too expressive. Serena Sandford as the Lilac Fairy had a lot of dancing to do in this production. Despite one wobble, she was a consummate classicist, elegant and serene.
A traditional Sleeping Beauty has a plethora of secondary fairies, five in the first act, and four in the third. The young women all acquitted themselves well in their variations, with Sophia Lee being a stand-out.
This production dates from 2002 and boasts imposing sets by Michael Eagan and lovely costumes by Shannon Lovelace and Anne Armit. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the first act court scene looks empty. Aurora’s parents are sumptuously costumed like Napoleon and Josephine at their coronation but there are no attendants, which is dumb. Why not craft about 10 more gorgeous empire outfits, and use local dance students to volunteer as supernumeraries?
Part of the RWB mandate is touring, so that means recorded music. The sound at the Living Arts Centre, however, was deplorable. Either the theatre has the worst speakers in the world, or the CD needs juice.
The RWB Sleeping Beauty tour continues to Hamilton on the evening of Friday, April 12, and London, Ont., on the afternoon of Saturday, April 13.