REVIEW: Moscow City Ballet presents Sleeping Beauty

Moscow City Ballet presents Sleeping Beauty – Image: Contributed

Venue: Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

Performance Date: 31 January 2020

Star Rating: ★★

Reviewer: Alexia Anderson

The music of Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky is some of the best-known of the romantic era. Having lived a troubled life, his compositions have a stunningly introspective way about them. This has led him to be one of the most highly regarded composers of the classical world and a true Russian hero of the people when it comes to the arts. 

Sleeping Beauty (alongside his other works in the trilogy; Swan Lake and The Nutcracker) is one of the most well-known ballets of all time. Written in 1888, Tchaikovsky was commissioned to compose the score, which was to be based on the literary work of Charles Perrault, La Belle au bois dormant. Premiered in 1890, it was met with a more favourable reception than Swan Lake had received in 1877 and became an instant success.

Unfortunately, the reception this evening is perhaps not as favourable. With some chuckles after the opening, at a time of no humour, it is off to a rocky start. The entrances are flat with little energy, even though the ballerinas are very accomplished as individuals, particularly the women. They are a highly skilled corps de ballet, albeit a bit vapid on the male front. 

The choreography is incredibly strange at times, with very random and odd head and arm movements, which are ill-fitting with the style of the era. It does not do the dancers or the narrative justice. With the crass mime, put together with clumsy, messy stage direction, it’s a questionable act one. This continues throughout, with choreography becoming repetitive and stompy. 

The production is let down by a very uncoordinated orchestra, which experiences some serious issues. Tuning difficulties in the high strings and embouchure issues in the brass make for some difficult listening at times. Paired with a rather rogue percussionist, the cacophony of triangles, tambourines, and timpani is somewhat distracting and certainly keeps us on our toes. 

Act two warms up a little, however, the aforementioned issues are still apparent. The biggest disappointment is that there is so little joy in what should be a fine piece of romantic art. The performance lacks energy from the get-go and the dancers seem emotionally tired. They dance through the motions as opposed to living their roles. Faces are, for the most part, expressionless and the performance lacks any real emotion or depth. The King brings some much-needed energy and expression to the performance, however, and the part he plays in the performance is a saving grace. 

Looking at some positives, set and design is spectacular. Colours are lifting and costumes are impressive. Lilia Orekhova plays Princess Aurora very well. Her ‘port de bras’ is strong and masterful, and her musical timing is excellent, which is, unfortunately, for the most part, in contrast to that of the corps de ballet. 

There is some sloppy movement of normal walking (unpointed toes) or shifting of weight between the feet when standing which makes it feel as if the dancers are a little uninspired themselves. The choreography doesn’t quite match the music (unless this is down to the orchestra’s timing) and it feels disconnected. 

At the interval, a confused individual asks, “what ballet is this?” which sadly sums up a rather lacklustre and, at times, narratively unclear performance. The storyline and characterisation aren’t easy to follow, which leads to many scenes of confusion and unrefined movement. Underscored with the troubled orchestra, it’s all a little haphazard. The set and costume do bring some life to the production, however perhaps not enough. 

Whilst there is some stunning dancing from the ballerinas and the design is very grand, overall this production does not do justice to or give a true representation of the phenomenal ballet that Russia is renowned for. It has all the ingredients of success but with a few elements creating an alarming dissonance, it doesn’t quite hit the mark. 

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