Magazine article The Spectator

Brace of Beauties

Magazine article The Spectator

Brace of Beauties

Article excerpt

Dance The Sleeping Beauty (English National Ballet) The Sleeping Beauty (The Kirov Ballet)

Created by the Italian dancer Enrico Cecchetti, the role of the wicked fairy Carabosse in the 1890 ballet Sleeping Beauty is a perfect example of the gender-bending aesthetics that dominated the 19th-century classical theatrical dancing. As the idealised representation of both the quintessential female and the unattainable object of desire, the gravity-defying ballerina could not portray an old witch. Grotesque and comic female characters were thus assigned to more earthbound male mime dancers in drag. But who says that Carabosse must be an old hag? Certainly not the artistic director of English National Ballet, Derek Deane, judging by his new production of Sleeping Beauty, which is the third classic he has staged in the round at the Royal Albert Hall.

Deane's Carabosse is a steamy sex bomb who seduces the Prince to prevent the awakening of the Princess. Whether such a reading was created to suit the talents and, most of all, the Broadway-star-like presence of the Russian ballerina Anastasia Volochkova is difficult to say. Indeed, Carabosse, like all villains, is one of the most dramatically enticing characters of the ballet. It is not surprising, therefore, that it has prompted many different interpretations such as the canonical old hag, a great deal of Norma Desmond lookalikes and also a good number of camp drag queens. A flashy red-hot blonde, however, had yet to be seen. Still, Volochkova's Carabosse is perfectly in line with the rest of the production, in which the standard choreographic text is intentionally replaced by completely new material, with the sole exception of one or two `untouchable' numbers. The choice might not please the more conservative balletomanes, but it certainly makes a lot of sense, because any forceful adaptation of the old choreographic layout to such an unconventional performing space would have been untenable.

Deane's intentions are clear from the very moment the viewer enters the auditorium and is confronted by Roberta Guidi di Bagno's sets. The colours and the mix of fantastical architectural features - such as the crystal thrones or the Disney-like cradie - with more historically real ones leave no doubts; this Beauty is pure 21stcentury spectacle, and a beautifully danced spectacle in particular. …

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