German Ballet: An elegant Sleeping Beauty

Dornroschen (Sleeping Beauty)
By Peter Tchaikovsky
Staatsballet
Staatsoper, Berlin
September 28

The Spanish choreographer Nacoh Duato, who recently created international history by becoming the first non-Russian director of Russian dance company, the St Petersburg based Mikhailovsky, has produced a number of challenging productions including Sleeping Beauty.

His initial Moscow production had scandalised many, Chunks of the dance were taken out, the music replaced with works by other composers and, the worst gaffe was making the evil fairy Carabosse a female rather than is traditional in Russian ballet – a man.

However, in his new Berlin season he has tamed his excesses down and provided a slightly more traditional version, although he has gone the Russian way and Carabosse is danced by a man.

What makes this dance different is the way the dancers hold themselves, move and interact. Duato uses the classical modes as the basis for his dance but he adds other aspects.

Where traditional ballet aims for a sense of lightness, Duato adds an element which acknowledges the weight of the individual body and limbs. Heads are not always erect, limbs are often either overextended or seem on the verge of collapse. These techniques add a physicality and individuality to the dance providing some spectacular sequences.

The opening prelude of the ballet which celebrates the birth of Princess Aurora is generally set in an elaborate palace interior. This work took a refined almost minimalist approach. The set featured white flats with rococo designs and a couple of period thrones.

The courtiers were directed and harried by an intense and irrepressible Cattalbutte danced by Arshack Ghalumyan. The female courtiers were dressed in full length gowns and looked as though they were straight out of an 18th century court but without wigs. Having voluminous skirts meant that when they were lifted or moved by their male counterparts with their legs extended there was a burst of frothy material. At other times when they were moved with their hands by their sides they were like mannequins. 

In contrast the fairies were in pastel tutus and their dancing was more traditional delicate and captivating. Many of their lifts drew attention to the notion of weight and support. Some were supported by male fauns, who levered them up on their arms. The fauns provided a very acrobatic level of dance, with each performing a technically accomplished solo giving them a personality.

One of the great dramatic moments of the ballet was the appearance of Carabosse (Rishat Yulbarisov) accompanied by six scurrying black rodent-like creatures. He was probably the tallest of the dancers on stage and with his tight bodiced enormous black dress, short cropped black hair and ferocious dancing, he brought a sense of drama and dread to the work.

Wielding a needle the size of a small sword Calaboose delivered the prophesy that Princess Aurora would become a beautiful woman but that she would prick her finger and die. Following the pronouncement her little black helpers drew a huge black cloth over the entire cast on stage.

The scene ended with the Lilac Fairy (Sarah Mestrovic) mitigating the prophesy, with Aurora not dying, but going into a deep sleep to be awakened by a Prince. Her exquite dancing provided a counterpoint to that of Yulbarisov with her light, frivolous enthusiasm.

Act I brings the appearance of the 16-year-old Princess Aurora in the form of Iana Salenko, a diminutive redhead with extraordinary talent. Dancing with a series of courtiers there was a sense of regal fragility and nervousness. Her legs seemed to quiver, her dancing was tentative but there was also a sense of strength and determination seen in her unflappable pirouetting and posing aided by the four courtiers.

In Act II Marian Walker’s Prince Desire initially conveyed the impression of a world weary man but when he danced with Salenko there was an intensity to their perfomance which spoke of a close emotional bond.

Act III, which is always an unfortunate inclusion, consists of a series of routines and always spoils the drama and passion of the work. Only a brave choreographer would try and reduce this section. It was full of spectacular audience-pleasing sequences showing the abilities of members of the company’s dancers.

In addition to Sleeping Beauty in its 2016 programme, the State Ballet will also be presenting The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. They also have Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Grieg’s Hansel and Gretel and Balanchine's triple work, Jewels. Its modern triple bill features choreographers Jiri Kylian, Ohad Naharin and Nacho Duato. 

The Berlin Opera features more than 20 works, including Bizet’s “Carmen”, Britten’s “Peter Grimes”, Debussy’s “Pelleas and Melisande” four works each from Mozart, Strauss and Verdi and five from Wagner.

Use MyNBR Tags to track people and companies - and receive key-word email alerts. Find out how here.