Tchaikovsky’s score for ‘Sleeping Beauty’, written over 100 years ago, still sounds wonderfully vivid today, and blended with the superb ballet skills of the Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet, provides a glimpse of how it was originally conceived. Tchaikovsky wrote the score alongside the choreographer and thus the music and the choreography are beautifully married together. This company, formed in 1996, is recognised for its artistic technique in displaying the traditions and heritage of the Mariinsky ballet style, a distinctive Russian style.
The story of Sleeping Beauty, originating as ‘La Belle au Bois Dormant’, is well catalogued from Grimm’s Fairytales. The Princess Aurora is cursed at her christening by an evil fairy. On her 16th birthday, she pricks her fingers on a poisoned spindle but the Lilac fairy protects her from the spell, so that rather than dying, she falls into a sleep of 100 years. The spell can only be broken by a kiss. A simple enough tale and one that most people will be familiar with from their childhood, which is perhaps why the story-telling aspect is overlooked in favour of focussing on the dance technique.
Princess Aurora is danced in this performance by Margarita Demjanoka-Skutelska with immaculate poise and a wonderfully extended purity of line. The demanding choreography must put enormous strain on the principals but they make it look effortless. The weightlessness and delicacy they display belies the muscle and sinew which lies beneath and which makes these feats of athleticism and grace possible. The discipline and rigour of maintaining their bodies in such peak condition is unimaginable to us mere mortals.
The corps de ballet is full of future talent: the many fairy roles allow them to show their individuality and demonstrate the breadth of techniques. They are youthful, full of energy and oh so light, and perhaps because of the nature of the roles, are allowed more expression and character. The men, by contrast, are not really given the opportunity to shine, with a couple of exceptions. Prince Florimund is performed by Petr Borchenko, a very tall and lithe dancer, with confidence and panache but his main role is to present the Princess Aurora. Yassaui Mergaliev as the Blue Bird has a fabulous solo, full of fluttering leaps which make him appear to float. Various other fairytale characters appear in the final act, an opportunity for others to have their time in the limelight and adding a touch of humour.
That luscious Tchaikovsky score is presented with reverence by the Hungarian Sinfonietta Orchestra, with Vadim Perevoznikov as Musical Director. Whilst not detailed in the programme, from a quick head-count, the orchestra must be at least 30 strong, and they relish the challenge of the score in creating difference motifs and pace for the good and evil aspects of the story.
Our modern tastes may be used to a more emotionally engaging type of performance but the Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet provide a window on the origins of ballet, on its fine Russian roots, and remind us that a classic can only be created when the essence of the original itself is pure and timeless.
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