The Sleeping Beauty, perhaps one of the most beloved ballets of all, usually takes three to four hours to perform. Younger audiences can easily become bored, even at the most gorgeous and enthralling performance. Enter Canada’s Ballet Jörgen, with a shorter, reimagined version of this classic.
The audience in the 500-seat Dunfield Theatre in Cambridge, ON, was a case in point: many families with young girls in their ballerina and princess costumes, some complete with tiara or bun, attended an almost sold-out show on October 4. I can’t say I saw a single nodding head at the end, either.
Ballet Jörgen’s production of Sleeping Beauty lasted just over two hours, including intermission, and is a reinterpretation of Maurice Petipa’s 1890 original, but with a contemporary spin by Artistic Director Bengt Jörgen.
In his program message Jörgen explains that his new interpretation is meant to emphasize nature: “This production was inspired by the many legends, including those of North America, of how the rose got its thorns.”
The theme of nature sprouts up repeatedly. The simple set design consisted of golden vines that appeared to be climbing up each curtain leg on both sides of the stage. Two moveable pieces of the same vine resembled two large garden trellises, each one outfitted with a bench that allowed for climbing or sitting, as the choreography required. The vines appeared both as something beautifully flowing and also horribly knotted, depending on the scene.
Various roles were also updated to fit the nature theme. Servants became servant sprouts, courtiers changed to flower courtiers, and the six fairies in Rudolf Nureyev’s version (which The National Ballet of Canada performs) became three birds. Perhaps the most obvious change was that Carabosse is portrayed as the male leader of the underworld in this version, taking on the form of the thorny hedge that eventually surrounds the castle and tries to prevent Prince Florimund from entering.
The ballet opens with a scene about a Rose Bud Child. The program explains that Carabosse (again, a male in this production) and the Lilac Fairy “struggle with the memories of an impossible love. Neither can live in the space of the other but, united through a child whom they each struggle to possess, a beautiful new blossom is formed.”
It’s a beautiful description but was difficult to locate in the choreography. The interaction between Carabosse and the Lilac Fairy didn’t immediately signal love between them, either, let alone impossible love. And why were they struggling to possess this child? So, a few questions left me confused, but the underlying leitmotif of the two parts of a rose — the thorns and the flower — were clear.
The solos are shorter in length than those typically found at the ballet. Each one is just long enough to demonstrate the character’s personality and the dancer’s skill but not so long that audience members, especially young ones, might tire of the scene. Some ballet lovers may feel a desire to see more, especially if they’re familiar with classical full-length versions of Sleeping Beauty.
One noticeable cut in the story was Act III, the scene of Aurora and Florimund’s wedding. Traditionally a collection of solos and pas de deux, including performances by several fairy-tale characters, its length was reduced by Jörgen and attached to Act II. The Blue Bird, wonderfully danced by Igor Voloshyn in this show, was the only fairy-tale character to appear.
The Dunfield Theatre stage is small, and the male dancers impressively managed to fit their jump sequences in and still retain their height and distance. I found Hannah Mae Cruddas, who danced the Lilac Fairy, very engaging and entertaining to watch. Overall the company dancers’ technique was generally clean and well executed; however, I missed a more authentic and spontaneous response to the emotive journeys of their characters. Their actions came across as choreographed, and that was hard to connect with.
Education and outreach are part of Ballet Jörgen’s vision. To that end, they involve local dancers in each location they visit. The twenty-one young, talented dancers chosen for this show performed well and had ample stage time to show off what they’d already learned at their home studios.
Part of Canada’s Ballet Jörgen’s mission is to become “a company that makes ballet relevant, comfortable, part of growing up, part of the fabric of regular life, as community friendly as hockey or curling.” Jörgen’s rendition of Sleeping Beauty was accessible, designed with impact and definitely suitable for families and younger audiences.