70 years ago, the Royal Opera House reopened after the war with The Sleeping Beauty, a symbolic reawakening. The Royal Ballet’s revival of that same production mixes nostalgia and celebration, reverence and compromise. It has some fine dancing and a superb text, but it’s still reaching for the ballet’s full resonance.
Marius Petipa’s ballet is rich with detail, with moments. The fairies at baby Aurora’s christening dance their gifts for her, virtues evoked in lively or delicate gestures. Court etiquette means that even terrified messengers bow before passing on the news of the outraged Carabosse, the forgotten fairy. Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous score builds its many short numbers into a radiant whole.
This production, created by Monica Mason and Christopher Newton and based on that 1946 version, has always needed more weight in performance. The Royal Ballet’s dancers find more heart in The Nutcracker’s mime, dancing it with more confidence. When Carabosse mocks the other fairies, Kristen McNally gives their gestures more precision than the actual performance did. Individual dancers can and do shine, but the frame lacks perspective.
Sarah Lamb is an elegant Aurora, her technique as pretty as a picture. She’s assured in the balances of the demanding Rose Adagio, and dances with clean line in the dreamy vision scene. Yet she doesn’t bring much personality to the role. She could show more contrast between these dances, the way Aurora grows and changes through the ballet.
She’s partnered by Vadim Muntagirov, a princely dancer with flowing line and intelligent, musical phrasing. As the Lilac Fairy, Claire Calvert has appealing presence but needs more authority.
Packed with soloist roles, The Sleeping Beauty gives many dancers a chance to shine. Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell were gorgeous in the Bluebird pas de deux. She dances with glowing warmth, fluttering and delicate. He makes the murderous jumps look almost too easy, hovering in the air. Romany Pajak was a vivid Red Riding Hood, assertive as well as scared.
This performance showed a new energy among the corps de ballet, who brought crisp attack to the airy geometry of Petipa’s dances. As the Queen, Elizabeth McGorian acted with regal tenderness: she’s very touching when she begs the king to pardon the women caught with forbidden needles.
Seventy years on, Oliver Messel’s original fantasy designs have both charm and dustiness, with seventeenth-century fashions and unlikely architecture. Valery Ovsyanikov conducts a very brisk performance of the score.
In repertory until 14 March. Box office 020 7304 4000