Ballet: Sleeping Beauty by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Company: Canada's Ballet Jörgen
Director: Bengt Jörgen
Venue: Grand Theatre, March 31, 2016
How do you modernize a ballet like Sleeping Beauty that's rooted in 19th-century ideals of class and patriarchy while maintaining the charm and elegance of the original production?
Canada's Ballet Jörgen rises to meet the challenge with their new rendition of the timeless classic, which had its London premiere last Thursday at the Grand Theatre. The subtitle, How the Rose got its Thorns, is partly due to the influence of the Native American legend of the same name, but it also speaks to the number of strong female roles featured.
The ballet opens with a striking scene of juxtaposition, the dark king Carabosse (Adrián Ramírez Juárez) dancing with and against the Lilac Fairy (Hannah Mae Cruddas). The interplay between them is consistent and interesting throughout the production; Juárez, cloaked in black and covered in tendrils, looms menacingly around the stage with his grotesque hive of minions while Cruddas unflinchingly fights back with all the wisdom and power of a badass fairy godmother.
Much of the play depends on the titular character, Sleeping Beauty herself; thankfully, Saniya Abilmajineva's portrayal of Princess Aurora is an expert one. It's appropriate that she is the metaphorical "rose that got its thorns," because her performance is nothing if not sharp. Every leap and landing is accomplished with absolute precision, with no fatigued wavering even near the end of the production. In fact, though certainly laudable, Abilmajineva's bodily control is almost too perfect for a ballet about an unwilling sleeper.
Daniel Da Silva plays counterpoint to Aurora as Prince Florimund, breathing new life into a somewhat stale do-gooder stock character. Da Silva showcases his versatility, transitioning easily from yearning and sanguine to energetic and triumphant. He acts as an anchor for the extravagant Aurora in the grand pas de deux, but he also holds his own; most memorable is his frenetic series of spinning leaps that culminate in an breathtakingly effortless landing and flourish.
Other standout roles include Kealan McLaughlin's Bluebird, excelling and impressing with those tricky brisés volés in the coda; Junior Gaspar Caballero in a slinking, catlike performance as Carabosse's minion; and the knitting vines Elizabeth Gagnon, Heather Lumsden-Ruegg, Ayva Rossouw-Holland and Julia Pochko for their remarkable cohesion and versatility.
Jörgen's production does justice to the extravagance of Tchaikovsky's score, in terms of performance as well as costumes and set. The court scenes are grandiose and decadent, with several dancers leaping and bounding about the sumptuous scenery in flashy garb.
Despite Carabosse's shenanigans, Sleeping Beauty is ultimately a cheerful ballet. The simple, pastoral parts of the ballet, like the knitting women and the picnic scenes, aren't particularly flashy or decadent — but then Tchaikovsky's penchant for pizzazz can get a little exhausting, and these are welcome breaks. In Jörgen's production especially, these scenes are not only playful and charming but they're also extraordinarily well choreographed.
Tackling a huge, canonical work like Sleeping Beauty is ambitious, especially for a relatively small company like Canada's Ballet Jörgen. They've not only managed to do it, they've exceeded expectations; to retell an old story for a new audience, and emphasize quality over quantity, is a real accomplishment.