Study in Contrasts

By Poesio, Giannandrea | The Spectator, March 29, 2003 | Go to article overview

Study in Contrasts


Poesio, Giannandrea, The Spectator


As promised, I went back. And I am glad I did. My second visit to the Royal Ballet's new production of the 1890 classic The Sleeping Beauty dispelled many of the doubts raised by a problem-ridden first night. The faulty curtains are gone for good, the dry-ice machine has recovered from its initial bout of whooping-cough, and all the right light switches were finally found. In addition, a few changes were introduced to improve and amend those solutions that, regardless of any technical problem, looked rather awkward the first time round.

Those who attended the first few performances will be pleased to know that the irritating antics of the omnipresent Cupid have been considerably pruned. I wish he had been removed altogether, given that his presence detracts from a well-planned narrative. To have this little fellow aim an arrow at the Prince's heart while the Lilac Fairy is conjuring up a vision of the sleeping Princess spoils a significant reference to the early days of Romantic ballet, when a diaphanous female materialised in the middle of a wood to lure the male hero into an impossible quest for supernatural love. Similarly, I do not find it dramatically appropriate for the little Cupid to suggest to the Prince how to bring the sleeping girl back to life. According to the surviving source material, it should be the Good Fairy, symbol of wisdom, who prompts the Prince. And I have always found that bedside scene symptomatic of male ballet heroes' stupidity: what kind of a man needs a fairy to be told he has to kiss the girl he likes? I have always accepted, however, that the idea of the spell-breaking kiss has to come from the magical helper, the equivalent of the deus ex machina. What I cannot accept, though, is to have a third, superfluous character - the little Cupid - barge in to tell the Prince to kiss the Beauty.

Luckily, the Cupid character is the only truly annoying innovation - and my reservations have nothing to do with the role's young interpreter. Several other children populate this new version of the old work, taking to extreme the wish of the original choreographer, Marius Petipa, who wanted the students of the Imperial Ballet School in all his works. …

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