Birmingham Royal Ballet: The Sleeping Beauty
Rating: ★★★★
Venue: Sadler's Wells, London

Cursed by a wicked fairy, a beautiful princess pricks her finger and falls into a deep sleep that can only be broken by true love’s kiss.

The Sleeping Beauty has been delighting audiences for well over a hundred years, sprinkling ballet magic on this favourite childhood story and its cast of familiar characters. All wrapped up with sparkling virtuoso dance from Birmingham Royal Ballet’s brilliant dancers, fairy-tale characters, dazzling spectacle, and Tchaikovsky’s glorious music played live by the acclaimed Royal Ballet Sinfonia.

Once upon a time, a lover of princesses, magic, and all things fairy-tale, was invited to come and watch a show that pretended all of these things and what she actually saw was real magic take place in front of her very eyes, because ‘it’s kind of fun to do the impossible’.

The story of Sleeping Beauty is ‘a tale as old as time’, loved and cherished all over the world. Little Aurora is cursed at birth by the evil queen – on her 16th birthday she would prick her finger and fall into a deep sleep, only to be awoken by true love’s kiss.

Sometimes our strengths lie beneath the surface’, and sometimes we get the privilege of watching in awe while an entire ensemble simultaneously makes beautiful shapes with their bodies whilst balancing their entire body weight and precarious positions on two toes. A very clever fairy once taught us that ‘all you need is faith, trust, and pixie dust’.... and a lifetime of training, nerves of steel, endless patience and sacrifice... (you know, no big deal).

The way an entire atmosphere is crafted purely by the wave of sound the orchestra truly seem to conjure from out of nowhere is enthralling, and then to have so much responsibility and changeability in what that sound does to the space and how the performers then use it represents an unshakeable bond between music and movement whereby even though they could not see each other, they could only ever co-exist. Conductor Philip Ellis deserved every millisecond of the standing ovation he received during the curtain call, having absolutely been the leader in such a truly magnificent feat of accomplishment.

Philip Prowse
’s set and costume designs somehow manage to delicately understate the performance and yet also possess such grandeur and dominate attention all at once. The costumes are without question my favourite characters, each working in perfect harmony with its wearer to both create individuality and backstory, and to help convey all this to the audience without a single word. Every tiny detail carries absolute precision and intention with a necessary shout out for the principal fairy costumes, which were almost matching and yet could not have created a more directly opposing look nor personality.

I am usually inclined not to single out any one person in a performance where each individual member of the cast's every breath is so essential to the crux of the piece, however it would be a true disservice not to scream from the roof tops about Daria Stanciulescu the same way I wanted to every time she graced the stage, her movements and her dazzling black dress battling it out for most striking presence. In fact, the only moments in the show to surpass, were those in which the Wicked Fairy and Lilac Fairy (Eilis Small) shared the space to exert ‘phenomenal cosmic powers ... Itty bitty living space’, in the form of a fairly short duet in act one. I kept waiting for more between the two of them, only disappointed because of how much electricity was created between them the first time it felt utterly criminal for it to end there.

Yu Kurihara as Aurora definitely stole the audiences’ hearts, along with the Prince’s. There were moments where I could see some very understandable nerves at play, but ‘when one steps outside their comfort zone, that’s when life truly begins’ and this could not be more obvious than watching her confidence climb mountains as the night went on and dropping jaws and eliciting gasps across the auditorium during the wedding scene pas de deux. I genuinely remained open-mouthed the entire final fifteen minutes of the performance, every moment even more awe-striking than the last.

The same iconic company are dancing their way around the UK with Cinderella next year, so getting to see these shining stars ‘not just fly, but SOAR’ is not only ‘once upon a dream’ and I don’t know about you, but just like Ariel, I want more!

“Here is the world of imagination, hopes and dreams. In this timeless land of enchantment, the age of chivalry, magic and make-believe are reborn ― and fairy tales come true.” ― Walt Disney

You can book tickets to see The Sleeping Beauty at Sadler's Wells, here.

Review by Rachel

**photo credit: Bill Cooper**

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