Caring for tradition and daring to be different, David McAllister the seventh artistic director of The Australian Ballet presents a newly imagined version of the landmark ballet in three acts, The Sleeping Beauty, originally conceived by Russian choreographer and the ‘father’ of Russian ballet Marius Petipa (1818-1910).
Giving the audience a night of excellence, this magnificent story ballet with carefully considered revisions by McAllister, has received a rousing reception since it opened in Melbourne at The Arts Centre State Theatre recently.
What a fabulous gift for the whole family.
Fairies, a charming prince and a sleeping princess reposing in a see through egg like capsule in an opulent kingdom … waiting to be kissed, this is a ballet designed to seduce the next generation audience to worship at the font of ballet beauty, which it is sure to do.
The Sleeping Beauty is based on a fairy tale written by French author Charles Perrault in HIstoires ou contes du temps passé published 1697, although it came down through history in folk tales first printed in 1528, carried in oral history since the early fourteenth century.
The original premier performance of The Sleeping Beauty took place January 1890 at the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg. Composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s extraordinary music lit up everyone’s lives for the very first time.
Tsar Alexander III (1845-1894) was reported as saying it was ‘very nice’
Visually ravishing, certainly rivalling the ballet performed in the splendour of its seventeenth century setting at the court of the Sun King at Versailles, this glamorous production is reinvented from a work long considered one of the jewels of classical ballet repertoire.
Designer Gabriela Tylesova has re-imagined its look, placing the ballet in a French ‘Baroque’ design style setting, where everything is detailed to impress and overwhelm.
On Thursday evening 17th September when I was there Nicolette Fraillon conducted the musicians of Orchestra Victoria in fine style at the State Theatre of the Arts Centre, Melbourne.
A trio of couples have been chosen to dance the lead roles during the season.
On my night Senior artist Natasha Kusch danced the role of Princess Aurora alongside Principal artist Daniel Gaudiella as Prince Desire.
They were seamless; he combined strength in his stunning sequence of leaps and agility in the lifts and she combined grace and beauty as together they created an achingly beautiful illusion of dreams fulfilled.
Their pas de deux was a real treat, her Rose Adagio one of the hardest and most testing dances in all ballet, was superbly controlled.
It was good to see former prima ballerina Lisa Bolte on stage.
She brought a wealth of experience to the role of The Queen whose baby daughter is cursed by the not so nice Carabosse.
Performed stylishly by another former principal artist Lynette Wills, who was in ‘wicked’ style; her high boned features and conical headdresses the reverse shape of her rodent’s faces, adding to the evidence of evil abroad.
It is not hard to be dazzled by the brilliance of the costuming and quite sumptuous staging of this ballet. It is a beauty!
Stunning costumes prevail; bejewelled, ornate, layered tutus, exquisite dresses, high headdresses, gossamer wings and divine wigs… with disturbing rodent masks, this was a production on a grand scale not usual in our day and age; very 80’s.
The palette of colour in the first two acts is bright and vibrant and the maroon gold and white palette of colours for the first act were glorious.
Innovated in gold and white the third and final act of David McAllister’s The Sleeping Beauty 2015 played on the extensive use of both glass and gilding at Versailles as a way of reflecting candle light.
The set for the glittering finale featured all the characteristics of a Baroque interior; the use of white and gold together, glittering gold and glass chandeliers, a triumphant mural inspired by those on the ceilings at the chateau at Versailles, where the dazzling mirrored Hall of Mirrors became King Louis XIV’s theatre of reflection and artifice.
The Corps de Ballet featured dancers sporting the French King Louis XIV’s Sun King motif on their tops, which are worn over petticoat pantaloons with some surmounted by flaming sun-ray gilded diadems on their heads while the ladies wore feathers and flounces.
It was all just too divine.
They were inspired by the original design, which still survives, for the Sun King’s costume when he danced in his music master Jean Baptiste Lully’s Ballet de la nuit (1653).
The much loved Garland Waltz remained intact and the sea green and pink rose colouring was glorious.
Joseph Chapman as ‘the Wolf’ and the rats certainly made a big impression, the latter ensuring my skin crawled; those masks were more than effective.
They symbolized evil superbly, making the hair stand up on the back of your neck and arms as they slithered onto the stage.
The Fairies were beautiful, a standout on our night was the Lilac Fairy Miwako Kubota and the Fairy of Joy, Dimity Azoury.
Other dancers I noticed particularly were Andrew Wright as the Swedish Prince, one of the four who support the princess Aurora as she dances her famed Rose Adagio.
The focus in the first two scenes are the forces of good and evil.
Act III, in all its glittering glory however, is the one that highlights the characters through a series of court dancers.
The Bluebird and Princess Florine danced by Marcus Morelli and Jessica Fyfe was all delight.
I believe it is important for a performance art work to balance the theatre of the piece with the visual of how it looks taking into account the psychology of the piece.
How it makes the audience feel.
Although to my mind this should never be at the expense of the depth of beauty and techniques of the dance, which should always take precedence.
Basically any ballet should be able to succeed just like a great theatre piece on a simple black stage… the theatre with words, the ballet with dance, perhaps lit by, in this instance as it was, with chandeliers.
This production certainly poured on the colourful visuals for a younger more digitally literate society. I couldn’t help but feel many of its more mature supporters would have been feeling a bit overwhelmed at times, especially if they were not up to date with their Online skills and used to myriads of images flashing before their eyes.
It was like being inside a kaleidescope; vibrantly expressive colour combinations ravishing all the senses.
So much has changed in society since 1653 when Louis XIV (1638-1715) at 15 years of age and not yet King, played the allegorical character of the sun in The Ballet of the Night, the music composed by his favourite maestro Jean Baptiste Lully (1632-1687).
When Louis did come of age Apollo seemed like the perfect symbol for the new young king, who would live his whole life on stage in the theatre of life with the chateau of Versailles as his stage.
The Greek god of peace and the arts Apollo represented The Sun and rode his chariot across the sky starting at sunrise and ending at sunset, giving life to all things on his journey.
It was all about the hope attached to the reign of this young Apollo who evolved in his youth from loving battles to loving ballets best and his mature life would revolve around his personal passion for the performance and visual arts. In 1661 Louis established the Académie Royale de Danse, the first ballet institution in the western world.
Today amalgamated with the French Royal Academy of Music established in 1672, it’s better known as the Paris Opera Ballet
During the reigns of Louis XIV, XV and XVI ballet productions were presented in the ‘grand manner’ of the Baroque throughout the summer at the Chateau of Versailles in a sensational garden setting.
Designed by Louis XIV’s favourite gardener Andre le Notre, with their parterres, pools, sculptures, fountains, grottoes and groves the gardens formed a natural complement to the architecture of the chateau.
Russian choreographer Marius Petipa was a tour de force unto himself and he designed many now famous works considered part of its tradition.
They were all inspired by stories from literature including The Pharaoh’s Daughter, Le Corsaire, Don Quixote, La Bayadere, Giselle, Coppélia, Cinderella, The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty to name a few.
Petipa would go down in ballet history as being innovative in devising the stunning dance movements for his works that gained a reputation as being breathtakingly beautiful to behold.
This was more than likely because they fulfilled everyone’s idea of what beauty and romance was all about, an irresistible combination that has continued from his day until ours.
He toured his troupe of dancers to Paris, throughout Europe and in North and South America from1909 onward, staying in the west after the Russian revolution of 1917 in his homeland.
On the program was his 45-minute arrangement of Aurora’s Wedding, which included all of the great dances for soloists devised by Petipa for his Sleeping Beauty.
The Ballet Russes and the ‘beauty’ took the world by storm, ensuring the greatest of the Russian traditional ballet works became embedded in the culture of the ballet in the west as well.
Australians first had their first taste of Diaghilev’s productions between 1936 – 1940 when Les Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo was formed by members of the company following their impresario’s untimely death in Venice in 1929.
They toured down under and afterwards a number of the company’s dancers and choreographers remained in Australia or returned to work here. This included Eduard Borovansky (1902-1959) whose Borovansky ballet would become the forerunner of The Australian Ballet.
The 19-year-old Marilyn Jones, arriving from quite outside the organization, was made a ballerina overnight when she danced in Borovansky’s last Sleeping Princess.
When English dancer and administrator Dame Peggy Van Praagh took charge following his death she insisted based on his horrific experiences with endeavouring to establish a following for dance in Australia, that its dancers would receive annual wages if it was to be an ‘Australian Ballet’.
This was a first for artists in this country and for that even today they all must love her dearly. She was a formidable force to be reckoned with and many times went in to bat for their well being. I remember her vividly.
In London Margot Fonteyn who had lit up the stage as Aurora in the first Royal Ballet production of the work, which was also chosen to reopen the Royal Opera House in London after World War II.
She came to Australia to dance for Borovansky and came again and again for Dame Peggy who also encouraged her to dance the ‘Beauty’ and other works here in Australia.
Long will I remember seeing both her and Rudolf Nuryev on stage in many of the great fairy tale ballets either singly or together before and after the formation of The Australian Ballet. Fonteyn stated ‘… it seems to me that all the most important performances of my life were in Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty’.
At that point in both our social and cultural development everyone needed a story of hope and Petipa’s original version of the ‘Beauty’ was over four hours long, so inevitably it had to be cut and the mighty and great English choreographer Frederick Ashton became involved. What a master he was.
Having seen the Beauty danced many times by some of the great principal dancers of The Australian Ballet over the years, including Marilyn Jones, Marilyn Rowe, Steven Heathcote, Fiona Tonkin and, David McAllister…to name only a few, I feel that I know it well.
Most choreographers’ who have been involved with it since that time have retained the essence of that original production, because it is became so beloved; fulfilling many fantasies.
David McAllister of The Australian Ballet is no exception, and his new production while it honours the past in the present will help to also ensure the ongoing future of the ballet, a now well-beloved performance art form in Australia.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015
Arts Centre, Melbourne
Until 10 October, 2015
Sydney Opera House
27 November – 16 December, 2015
Crown Theatre Perth
Great Eastern Hwy
Burswood WA 6100