The Sleeping BeautyMoira de Swardt
Moira de Swardt: The South African Ballet Theatre charms audiences, young and old, with this classic fairy tale ballet.
The Sleeping Beauty was the first ballet Anna Pavlova saw, when she was eight years old, and it inspired her to become a dancer. George Balanchine was a child dancer from the Imperial Ballet School in St Petersburg in The Sleeping Beauty and he fell in love with ballet in that performance. I am certainly in good company when it comes to declaring The Sleeping Beauty to be my favourite ballet.
The South African Ballet Theatre's production opened on 30 September 2011 and it is absolutely delightful. The staging is almost flawless. Unfortunately, due to injury, there were some cast changes, with Shannon Glover stepping up to the role of Aurora in the place of Burnise Silvius and Humberto Montero as Prince Florimund in place of Adam Thurlow. This meant changes down the line and Jessica Overton danced the role of Princess Florine with James Fraser as the Bluebird. I do hope the injury is slight and that I will still get to see the Silvius/Thurlow combination later in the season.
Shannon Glover performed Aurora's signature dance with the four suitors beautifully, and although the balancing between each suitor was brief, it was sure. Both she and Humberto Montero give the physical appearance of being fragile and delicate young dancers but the partnership between them belies that. Montero is lithe and precise and they are both secure and confident in the execution of the demanding choreography and his lifts and holds are superb, especially the fish dive with which the grand pas de deux ends. Glover is not yet experienced enough to simultaneously concentrate on the technically demanding role and to imbue it with her own personality, but that will come with time.
The Bluebird couple, Jessica Overton and James Fraser, were making their debut in this role and they were so charming that the audience broke into spontaneous vocal accompaniment to the applause when they took their bows. James Fraser has the elongated, elegant body which, together with his height, makes him very visually appealing in the role of romantic heroes. In addition Fraser moves commandingly as well as gracefully.
The entire company is looking very good, and Iain MacDonald paid tribute to both ballet mistress, Lauren Dixon-Seager, and to Odette Milner who coached the principal dancers. Sanmarie Kreuzhuber made a gorgeous Lilac Fairy. Chase Bosch was the evil Carabosse. All the good fairies were animated and vivacious and I could not help but be drawn into the story. The battle between good and evil with the eventual triumph of good is heartwarming and it is most suitable for introducing young children, like Anna Pavlova, to ballet. Andre de Beer was an elegant Catalabutte. The children of the SABT Development School were court pages and monsters.
This production will be making use of three well-known theatre couples as King Florestan and his Queen. On opening night Dawn Lindberg appeared with Iain MacDonald, bringing such maternal warmth to the role that it lit up the entire first and second acts in the places where she interacted with her baby and then the young Aurora. Later in the run Des and Dawn Lindberg, Michael de Pinna and Carolyn Steyn and Lena Ferugia and Robert Davis will grace the stage as the king and queen. Also later in the run Yolandi Olckers and Thoriso Magongwa will perform the Bluebird couple.
The Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra accompanied the ballet, and will do so for the entire season, except for performances on 6, 7 and 13 October (the JPO season performances), when it will be danced to recorded music. The conductor for the JPO for this production is Sonja Bass and although it is her first time conducting for the ballet she did an excellent job. The music, of course, is the gorgeously rich ballet by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky composed at the behest of the then director of Imperial Theatres, Ivan Vsovolzhsky, to Marius Petipa's working scenario which went into great detail about what was required. The ballet premiered on 15 January 1890 with the great Enrico Cecchetti as both the evil fairy Carabosse and the Bluebird.
The sets (by the late Anthony Farmer adapted by Vanessa Nicolau) and costumes (Lindy-Ann Grindlay) were both charming. The only thing I did not like about the ballet was the light from the stage shining in my eyes during the “awakening” scene. It was so harsh and unfriendly. Lighting was by Simon King.
Iain MacDonald is very conservative and very reverent in his approach to the beautiful fairy tale and there was nothing startling in this adaptation at all. Marius Petipa would recognise most of the choreography and children who are familiar with the story can follow the action without too much trouble.
At the end of the ballet there was an awards ceremony. Congratulations to Fiona Budd for winning the Giselle award, to Samantha Saevitson, Lauryn Summerley and Humberto Montero for winning Madge Cade awards and to Jessica Overton, Jonathan Rodriques, and Shannon Glover on their promotions.
The Sleeping Beauty will be performed at the Joburg Theatre from 30 September to 16 October 2011.
Moira de Swardt
011 482 7320
082 553 2457
Joburg Theatre Complex, Loveday Street Braamfontein Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa