The Sleeping Beauty has been performed by The National Ballet of Canada in 1972, 1987, 2006 and excitingly now in 2015. Having been performed over so many years, the ballet still has potential to capture the imaginations of audiences of all ages.
Inspired by the tale La Belle au Bois Dormant, written by Charles Perrault in 1679, Tchaikovsky created his longest ballet score, The Sleeping Beauty, in 1889. A year later, the first ballet production was performed, choreographed by Marius Petipa. Rudolf Nureyev revisited The Sleeping Beauty in 1966, and created additional choreography – staging the ballet for the NBoC in 1972. With such great history involved in the production, the audience is swept easily into the past, to encounter fairies, princes, princesses and gorgeous dancing, with set and costumes by Nicholas Georgiadis and lighting design by David Hersey.
The simple yet classic story makes room for beautiful dancing with many stylized characters embodying Tchaikovsky’s score, performed by The National Ballet of Canada Orchestra conducted by David Briskin. An audience favorite was the pas de deux of the Pussycats within the third act. Dressed all in white, their movements purred across the stage. They performed striking pas de chats – a classical ballet leap in which each foot is drawn up to the knee to create the shape of a diamond – which translates as “step of the cat”.
The Sleeping Beauty is one of the most technically demanding ballets within the classical repertoire. The pointe work by the cast, especially the corps de ballet, was outstanding, with not one mistake or fall, even through jumps on pointe and sharp, tricky turns.
Playing Princess Aurora, the beautiful Sonia Rodriguez was most impressive. In The Rose Adagio, Rodriguez sustains a balance en pointe while four suitors each lead her in a promenade turn. After her four rotations, she gracefully extends to arabesque before finally coming down off pointe. Her movements were ever so clean and her acting was on pointe (pun intended). Piotr Stanczyk played opposite her as Prince Florimund. As a definite audience favorite, Stanczyk easily commands the entire stage by himself during his solo in the forest during Act II.
Though, for me, one of the greatest moments of going to the ballet is the reveal of the stage behind the curtain, I was disappointed by my first glance at the extravagant set and the colourful costumes. A vast set with many moving pieces, its maroon and brown colouring remains dimly lit during Acts I and II. The final act of the ballet involves a bit more colour, with a brighter red set and vivid costumes. Although the costumes were extremely detailed, even from my middle orchestra seat I was too far away to appreciate the features. One patron sitting in front of me even pulled out a pair of binoculars.
Nevertheless, the ballet ends on a beautiful note with the wedding of Princess Aurora and Prince Florimund, giving the audience the happily-ever-after ending that ballets do so well.
The National Ballet of Canada’s The Sleeping Beauty runs from June 10 through 20 at the Four Seasons Centre, Toronto.