The Australian Ballet’s ravishingly beautiful production of The Sleeping Beauty, directed by David McAllister, sold out when it premiered in Sydney in 2015, and then subsequently in Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane. Due to popular demand, it is currently enjoying a return season at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre, and will be performed in Adelaide next year.
Members of The Australian Ballet in The Sleeping Beauty. Photograph © Daniel Boud
There was an extra buzz in the air last night with Misty Copeland making her debut as Aurora as a guest artist with the Company. It’s the second time that Copeland, who is a Principal Artist with American Ballet Theatre (ABT), has made an important role debut in Australia; in 2014 she danced her first Odette/Odile in Swan Lake when ABT performed at QPAC. (In the process, she became the first African-American dancer to perform the dual role for the company, and only the second in history following Lauren Anderson at Houston Ballet in 1996.)
As Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, Copeland was understandably nervous during the famous Act I Rose Adage, with its difficult balances, but as the nerves receded her performance gradually took flight. She is a tiny dancer but strong, with a powerful presence. The high arch of her feet, the strength in her legs, her expressive arms, and glorious extensions, are all thrilling. All her Aurora needs now is to convey a more emotional dimension so that it soars from being technically assured to transcendent, but she has star power and received a huge response from the audience.
David McAllister’s production retains key passages of Marius Petipa’s original choreography with new linking material devised in a similar style. It has been tightened a little since it premiered, and the storytelling is crystal clear.
Visually it’s a triumph with sets and costumes designed by Gabriela Tylesova – and it sits beautifully on the stage of the Capitol Theatre (which is larger than the Joan Sutherland Theatre at the Sydney Opera House where the company usually performs in Sydney), at one with the opulence of the auditorium. What’s more, it is a joy to hear Tchaikovsky’s glorious score so clearly from the larger, open pit, performed as well as it is here by the Opera Australia Orchestra, conducted by Philip Ellis.
Artists of The Australian Ballet as the fairies. Photograph © Daniel Boud
Tylesova’s staging features baroque and rococo elements including twisting columns, glittering chandeliers, painted rustic frescos and an ornate glass casket for Aurora’s enchanted sleep. The costuming is exquisite with an intoxicating use of colour from the soft turquoise and pinks of the garland dance to the sumptuous white and gold for the wedding, while the different hued, bejewelled tutus for the fairies have to be some of the prettiest tutus of all time.
Last night’s cast was largely (though not entirely) the same as on opening night (on November 11) when Lana Jones was a radiant Aurora, looking stunning just months after returning from maternity leave in August.
Kevin Jackson is once again superb as the Prince. He exudes authority and charisma, and seems to have endless time to make and land his leaps. He is also the perfect, sensitive partner. Amy Harris as the Lilac Fairy and Dimity Azoury, Ingrid Gow, Sharni Spencer, Sarah Thompson and Jill Ogai as the other fairies are each in their own way delightful, and Gillian Revie makes the most of the dramatic role of the evil Carabosse.
There is also a sparkling peformance from Marcus Morelli as the Bluebird and Jade Wood as Princess Florine. The Sleeping Beauty is a ballet with umpteen showy variations, and some of the dancing is impressive without being truly thrilling, but technically excellent overall.
Last night’s audience was clearly swept up in it and when the shower of gold descended on the wedding as the curtain fell at last night’s performance, you could almost feel the entire auditorium let out a sigh of delight.
The Sleeping Beauty plays at Capitol Theatre until November 25. Misty Copleand dances again on November 24