Martin Schläpfer’s version of the fairytale ballet at Vienna State Opera, reviewed here from the live stream
Photos by Ashley Taylor
There are wonderful scenes in Martin Schläpfer’s new “Sleeping Beauty”: We see the Lilac Fairy and Carabosse, the good and the evil principles, glide around each with gentle doubt, the futility of their fight becoming clear early on and the magic of a reconciliation lying in the air. We see a wise forest woman with a violin showing the prince the right way, we see this Désiré, who seems to have not only lost the way but lost himself, lie flat on the forest floor and seek for a connection with the earth. We see, after many synthetic colours, a soft forest green finally dominate the picture, we see the prince gently kiss the sleeping girl and then she awakens to the searing strings of Giacinto Scelsi’s music, which almost imperceptibly leads into Peter Tchaikovsky’s serene violin solo. We see the couple getting to know each other then, smiling and softly touching forehead to forehead. We see Aurora float on the prince’s back, and we see Carabosse, after her evil spell has been lifted by the kiss, tenderly mime the gestures for “dead” and “crying” as if they were quotes from a forgotten world.
The new “Sleeping Beauty” in Vienna is always good when Martin Schläpfer distances himself far and wide from the original, from Marius Petipa’s choreography, Ivan Vsevoloshky’s libretto or even Peter Tchaikovsky’s music. But unfortunately he prefers to cling in a strange proximity to the traditional version, trying to do better than Petipa and employing a costume designer who has put the poor fairy tale characters in some dreadful things. Two worlds collide in this version: the colourful, fashionable court society and the mysterious, dark forest. Carabosse is not the fury or wrinkled crone we know, but a beautiful, proud woman; Claudine Schoch’s purple evening dress just seems to be the darker shade to the Lilac Fairy’s brighter colours. Schläpfer sticks to the old libretto, but he cuts the second act with the hunting and unfortunately also the vision scene. There are some other changes as well, the royal couple for example interferes quite often in their daughter’s variations and pas de deux, and – the biggest riddle of the evening – there is no baby. A cradle with the much longed-for child (already during the overture there is a scene with the desperate, childless couple) hangs high up under the ceiling during the entire prologue, although at that point there is no threat yet to the little girl. What parents would not hold their child during its christening?
Martin Schläpfer doesn’t do anything different than what Nacho Duato did in Berlin and at the Mikhailovsky Ballet: he choreographs almost every step anew. Only the Rose Adagio, the Blue Bird pas de deux and the Grand pas de deux of the lucky couple remain in their traditional versions. The rest is different, but much too close to the original, because Schläpfer hardly detaches the characters from the music that was ascribed to them in the libretto. And so the traditional steps still flash through the variations of the fairies in the prologue, through the leaps of their cavaliers. The fairy Violante, for example, also points her index fingers, just in different directions. In the second and third act, Schläpfer departs farther from the original almost completely, even in the very humorless Puss in Boots pas de deux for. As a choreographer, he has proved that he can arrange large architectures, for example in symphonic ballets he did at Mainz or Düsseldorf. Here, he reduces everything to smaller groups and blurred lines. “Sleeping Beauty”, this “encyclopaedia of classical ballet”, is earthbound in its neoclassical language by small irritations such as flexed feet, knees turned inwards or hips pushed forward. Schläpfer likes to contrast subtle pointe work and women standing firmly on the floor with wide legs. But everything modern comes only in a tolerable dose, never with the utter consequence of someone like Mats Ek, who a long time ago completely dismantled “Sleeping Beauty”. And unfortunately never with the dramaturgical skill of someone like Marcia Haydée, who tells her tale of good and evil consistently until the very end. It may well be that the fairy tale subject makes the typical Schläpfer movements that we loved before look almost mannered here.
Catherine Voeffray’s costumes sometimes look as if someone has thrown a piece of cloth at a body and kept what stuck there. The Canari fairy looks like a revue dancer and Violante seems to come straight from the beach; all that bare skin gives the staging a sporty, outdoor character. Very few ballerinas wear tights, not even Aurora. For the men, short trousers dominate, which combined with over knee-high white boots look rather camp. White slippers under dark suit trousers even suggest sneakers – actually you would avoid unsympathetic, superficial people like that at a party. Florian Etti designed huge roses for the backdrop, which are banished behind geometric elements for the third act.
As Aurora, Hyo-Jung Kang is enchanting, she dances with light leaps and graceful, fine arms, radiating bliss and love from within. In Brendan Saye she has a thoughtful, rather down-to-earth prince at her side, who is more concerned with partnering than with a loving smile at his wedding. Schläpfer may have radically deleted the music of the second act, but he keeps every single number from the last act, even the normally cut scene of Cinderella, the Pas berrichon (Hop ‘o My Thumb) and a rarely ever heard sarabande in which the king and queen hand over their crowns before the finale. The ballet just doesn’t find an end, although nothing really happens; the forest woman and a faun dance to the music of Little Red Riding Hood, the rest is done more or less decoratively by the fairies from the prologue and various party guests. Aurora’s mother, the queenly Olga Esina, is still as melancholic as she was at the beginning, despite all the happiness. In a mysterious scene, she joins forces with Carabosse and the Lilac Fairy (Ioanna Avram) to form a trio of proud women, but is pulled away by her king (Masayu Kimoto). The flashy court folks follow the young ruling couple when they go out, leaving behind the old fairy tale characters – the fairies, birds and cats. The king and queen lie down, the forest woman (Yuko Kato) comes from behind like a visionary; in the end she knows more than we do. Patrick Lange conducted the orchestra of the Vienna State Opera with beautiful colours and great energy.