Theatre review - Sleeping Beauty from Birmingham Royal Ballet at The Lowry, Salford

Pas de deux, Sleeping Beauty Princess Aurora and Prince Florimud, Birmingham Royal Ballet

Pas de deux, Sleeping Beauty Princess Aurora and Prince Florimud, Birmingham Royal Ballet - Credit: Archant

The Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty is glorious dazzle of dance and costume and, of course, Tchaikovsky’s unforgettable score, says Kate Houghton

The grand finale for Sleeping Beauty, Birmingham Royal Ballet

The grand finale for Sleeping Beauty, Birmingham Royal Ballet - Credit: Archant

Ballet has never really been my thing, I must confess. Being a bit of a wordsmith, I struggle with theatrical forms where no words are actually used. For me, unless you know the story, ballet has always been somewhat of an exercise in guesswork and, sorry, wondering why they have to do so much of it. Before you call me an utter philistine, I am also not wholly enamoured of the form of musical theatre where every word is sung and no prose is allowed. Oh, does that make it worse?

Don’t stop reading now, let me first say that despite having to puzzle out balletic mime and wondering just how many solo dances might take place before the story moved on (I flinch as I write, my ballet companion of last night will be horrified by now) I thoroughly enjoyed last night’s performance of Sleeping Beauty and would definitely recommend it as a great introduction for those not familiar with the form, and for those that are, a must see.

Carabosee casts her spell

Carabosee casts her spell - Credit: Archant

It’s quite the spectacle. A huge set, dozens of dancers, multiple costume changes, sparkles and satin and silk, layers of tulle, velvet and feathers and each costume hand-made only for the dancer who wears it. It’s a mammoth task preparing the company for such an endeavour, and that’s before they even start the choreography. I can’t imagine there’s a bigger ballet – and if there is, I do want to see it.

One of the joys of such a large cast (is that the right word, for ballet?) is that there are many set pieces with more than a dozen dancers on stage, each one in perfect synchrony with the next and in perfect symmetry with her opposite number. Watching each leg lift, each arm flow, each chin tilt…and then seeing it as if in a hall of mirrors, is really quite bewitching. You really, really appreciate the hours and hours of work they have all put in as well, to achieve such perfection.

And goodness, hard work it must be. Last night’s Sleeping Beauty, the Princess Aurora, played by Delia Matthews, dances a part packed to bursting point with poses and positions, leaps, turns, pirouettes and lifts that must put such a strain on her body it’s a mystery to me how she maintained her serene smile throughout. How she held her form through some of those long, drawn out and then repeated movements I cannot imagine, she must get through buckets of Deep Heat. I salute each and every one of last night’s dancers, they truly are spectacular, but Delia – you are a goddess.

The story is a well-known one, of course, which helped me enormously. I watched the predictable tale unfold, and was delighted with the acting ability of the main characters. The wicked Carabosse entered like a coiled spring, just barely surpressing her fury, but not for long, before unleashing it on the devastated royal couple. The good Lilac Fairy was serene and calm, optimistic (and just a little bit smug) as she suppressed the worst of Carabosse’s curse. Later we see peacocking princes fighting for Aurora’s attention at her fated birthday party, flirting maidens on the hunt and a restless Prince Florimund, ripe for the Lilac Fairy’s bidding to find the sleeping Aurora. It’s all done beautifully.

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Brandon Lawrence, who plays Prince Florimund, does it with a feline grace and power that is quite intriguing – just how does he achieve such height yet land as if on velvet paws? His strength in the lifts make it look utterly effortless and Delia is clearly in safe hands throughout, yet it is in the solo pieces where his true skill shows itself best.

Sleeping Beauty is on at The Lowry until Saturday 3 March