The Royal New Zealand Ballet have been able to do something that most other ballet companies on earth have yet to be able to do in recent months: put on a full-length ballet production, that this is also a new production, designed during lockdown makes it even more impressive. Due to the coronavirus restrictions, the original choreographer was unable to come over to New Zealand to put it on, leading to Patricia Barker to take on the challenge during lockdown restrictions, with no touching and small groups of dancers in their own bubbles, no small challenge!
Tchaikovsky’s classic, Sleeping Beauty is just that, a classic, the story of the princess Aurora, cursed by Carabosse to sleep for a hundred years until her true love can come and rescue her, it features some of the most exquisitely perfect music in the repertoire. Head of Costume, Donna Jefferis didn’t want the production set in a particular period but in “our own fantasy world that has its own sense of style: straight from a child’s story book perhaps.” It’s a beautifully designed production, with a story-book like border surround and at the beginning of each Act a sentence or two is projected on the stage, sort of like chapter introductions which really added to the story-book, fairy tale-eque nature of the piece. The costumes are also stunning, Carabosse and her minions in particular have truly incredibly costumes (see the photo below!). The background is a multimedia screen changing with the tone of the piece, for instance it’s all sunny blue with Aurora until she pricks her finger when the blue sky goes dark and cloudy and sunset-like, it works a treat and really added to the atmosphere. It boggles the mind at just how much effort and ingenuity must have gone in to this when it was all done during covid restrictions, a huge achievement.
The cast that I saw was fantastic, led by Katherine Skelton as the Princess Aurora who had phenomenal poise throughout. Her Rose Adage in Act 2 was particularly thrilling and perfectly executed. Ana Gallardo Lobaina really gave it her all and seemed to relish her role as Carabosse, the villain of the piece, she was full of energy and excitement and made for a great foil to Aurora. Kihiro Kusukami was a great match for Skelton as her Prince Désirè, especially in their performances in Act 4 which had the audience applauding thunderously. The whole corps de ballet was on great form, I particularly liked Luke Cooper who stood out with his great acting as well as his dancing.
One element of the production that I found particularly sweet was using very young children to play attendants, not only was it adorable but the huge smiles on their faces showed just how much they were absolutely loving dancing on stage with professionals, it was a really lovely touch.
The music was wonderfully played by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted ably by Hamish McKeich who made sure that it was timed perfectly for the dancers and was never overwhelming.
In any year this would have been a joyous and brilliant performance, but in the circumstances that it was designed under, it is nothing less than a marvel and I am incredibly grateful to the mind bogglingly brilliant masses of cast and crew around New Zealand who were able to put this on. It is impossible to attend this and not leave feeling buoyed up, what a way to end 2020!