Ellis Small (Lilac Fairy) and Yu Kurihara (Aurora) © Tristram Kenton

“The Sleeping Beauty“ in Birmingham

By Vikki Jane VILE

Sir Peter Wright’s The Sleeping Beauty may be 40 years old but the full capacity audience at the Birmingham Hippodrome on a Winter weekend proves there is still a huge appetite for a heritage ballet, danced in their original costumes to Tchiakovsky’s music, such as this. Complete with the charm of some of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s (BRB) exciting rising stars and it’s a dreamy way to pass three hours.

Princess Aurora is a seminal role for any Principal ballerina, technically demanding and a true endurance test, it is often left to the most seasoned of dancers who must convince the audience they’re a youthful 16 year old. Not here though as the responsibility fell to Soloist Yu Kurihara, who’s effervescent performance will sit in the memory for quite some time. Her Prince is the assured and composed Lachlan Monaghan, a multiple talent, not only in dance but with a gift for choreography and much more as his Instagram shows us.

All Photos: © Tristram Kenton

Ellie Small as The Lilac Fairy
Daria Stänciulescu as Carabosse

The costumes, as lovely as they are, show their age in the lengthy prologue which introduces the story and characters. The numerous fairies who bestow gifts upon the baby Aurora are not easily identifiable in an assortment of similar tutus in Autumnal shades but the fiendish solos are delivered mostly with panache and control. Yaoqian Shang glowed as the Fairy of Beauty, while Reina Fuchigami fizzed across the stage as the Fairy of Song.

This is a tale of good vs. evil at its heart and the evil in this equation is done with a delightful sense of drama. Daria Stanciulescu is a feisty and expressive Carabosse, a skilled actress who she knows exactly what she’s doing, and her small frame in a heavily embellished floor length gown still manages to be commanding alongside her attendants who leap and sneak about in what appears to be jaunty pirate get up. In contrast, Eilis Small’s Lilac Fairy in a matching style gown but now more faded grey than lilac has less to do. This is typically a “tutu” character but here she is a narrator who can only rely on her mime. She is calm, considered and benevolent but this is not the plum role ballet audiences are used to seeing.

The cohort of Aurora’s for this lengthy tour which runs until the end of April, were coached by Dame Darcey Bussell and I couldn’t help but think she would be thrilled with Yu Kurihara’s efforts at this matinee performance. Kurihara has the most dazzling port de bras, her arms aren’t capable of hitting a bad line and her storytelling is sincere and pure, especially in the iconic Rose Adagio in which she must find a suitor. Her light, bright and musical entrance is completely captivating.

Yu Kurihara as Princess Aurora and Lachlan Monaghan as Prince Florimund

In this most traditional of productions, Kurihara exudes the necessary elegance and regality of a young Aurora.The small details in her interactions with her Princes are spontaneous and charming; she looks before she smiles and receives her flowers, always bringing life to the story. On this showing there are some slight wobbles in the fiendish balances, but the audience has no doubt she will dig in and deliver the “moment” which she of course does. With Tchiakovsky’s rousing score enhancing the action, it’s an exhilarating thirty minutes.

All this before we have even met our Prince Florimund. Monaghan is an emotive dancer who cuts a lone figure at the hunting event where ghastly ladies try and impress him with their tiresome prancing. The role does not allow for much development, as it’s not long until we’re off to the wedding but Monaghan’s controlled leaps and creamy soft landings leave you feeling in safe hands that all will be well.

Yu Kurihara as Aurora

The glittering conclusion doesn’t disappoint. Our main couple don’t have bags of chemistry but the wedding pas de deux is more a technical challenge and they both again excel here, the children next to me gasp at the fast fish dives. Kudos too to Sofia Liňares and Rachele Pizzillo who are eye-catching in the pas de quatre, while Riku Ito and Beatrice Parma are poised and graceful in the tricky Bluebird pas de deux. Parma is another smaller dancer who bounces with charisma, she also debuts as Aurora in this run.

Even at 40 years old, Wright’s production is still as enchanting as ever. The costumes and staging don’t push any boundaries but there is still a thrill in seeing the classical ballets done well. As impressive as Kurihara is in the lead role (still a Soloist for now), it feels BRB has talent throughout its ranks to make even the most familiar stories as exciting as ever.