Queen's Film Theatre live stream the Bolshoi Ballet's most extravagant production of 2013
Frothy tutus and tinsel, spangly frocks and sparkly hairbands… and that's only in the audience. Ballet lovers are out in force before Christmas for a very special festive treat, a live recording of Sleeping Beauty direct from the Bolshoi State Theatre in the centre of Moscow.
But the glitter and glamour circulating around the foyer of Queen's Film Theatre is as nothing compared to the eye-watering spectacle unfolding on the stage of the Bolshoi's gloriously restored historic auditorium, brought right into the heart of Belfast thanks to the latest screening in the Bolshoi Live series.
When Sleeping Beauty was premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg in 1890, it was heavily criticised for the lack of drama in a storyline centred upon the Grimm Brothers' version of Charles Perrault's rather slight fairytale La Belle au Bois Dormant (Beauty in the Sleeping Forest).
Once in the hands of the celebrated choreographer Marius Petipa, however, the bittersweet story was translated into a series of spectacular dance segments unfolding to a melting score by Piotr Tchaikovsky. Thus Sleeping Beauty joined Nutcracker and Swan Lake as the third in a trilogy of symphonic ballets, and took its place as one of the most enduring pieces in the Russian classical tradition.
The version we see in Belfast was revisioned by veteran choreographer and former Bolshoi artistic director Yuri Grigorovich as the production that would launch the company's return to its expensively renovated original home. It is thus a piece conceived for a very grand occasion.
Restraint is far from the minds of the design team, led by Ezio Frigerio, who have created a set so vast and glittering that the normally hard-boiled Moscow balletomanes applaud as the curtain rises – forget the usual images of a dark, forbidding forest and a disintegrating royal palace, within which a curse placed on a tiny baby puts an entire generation on hold.
Here the traditional battle between good and evil – incarnated by Alexei Loparevitch's pantomime-styled Carabosse and a stern-faced Lilac Fairy – is somewhat overwhelmed by a framework of towering, richly gilded black onyx columns and ornate wrought iron gates. And Franca Squarciapino's costumes register in similar vein, filling the vast stage with a swirl of iridescent pastel-shaded silks and satins, shimmering with sequins, embroidery and floral embellishments.
In amongst the breathtaking spectacle and the technical brilliance of the dancing – particularly by the admirably disciplined 24-strong corps de ballet – it is a little difficult to discern the detail of the familiar narrative. The Prologue contains the basic blocks of the story: a lavish christening party, the arrival of Carabosse in a chariot pulled by inky-clad goblins and demons, the placing of a curse on a much-loved royal child.
But, as with the crucial moment in Act 1 in which 16 year-old Princess Aurora pricks her finger on a spindle, these crucial elements – and even the dancers themselves – appear dwarfed by the hugeness of the physical setting.
It is left to the Lilac Fairy to avert the deathly curse and effect a century-long slumber, which will only be broken by the kiss of a handsome prince. As the lights and the music fade on the sleeping girl, one can't help wishing that after the interval this visual feast will shake off its shackles and explode into the wonderful, emotional ballet feast, known and adored the world over.
Until this point, not even the Bolshoi's revered ballerina Svetlana Zakharova has managed to sear a deep and lasting impression, but at the start of Act 2 everything changes with the arrival of her partner David Hallberg as Prince Desiré.
Hallberg is all tall, blonde elegance, strength and sensitivity contained in a deceptively relaxed, loose-limbed body. He is a rare creature in Bolshoi circles: an American from Rapid City, South Dakota, who says that he joined the company to perfect his classical technique. He is certainly well on the way to doing so.
Hallberg may be some years behind Zakharova, in age and experience, but he certainly ignites a fire under her sublime, though rather icy, brilliance. Theirs is developing into a very refined pairing, which here reaches a thrilling climax in the gorgeous final pas de deux, which Grigorovich has consciously left largely untouched.
The final scene resounds with celebration and rejoicing, as the wedding of Aurora and Desiré is celebrated in splendid style. There is much to admire in the characterisations taken from other popular fairytales like 'Puss in Boots and White Cat', 'Red Riding Hood and the Wolf', 'Cinderella and the Prince', and 'Blue Bird and Princess Florine', the latter danced quite beautifully by the enchanting Nina Kapsova, a rising star in the Bolshoi firmament.
And other set pieces like the 'Waltz of the Flowers' and the cleverly staged sea voyage of the 'Prince and the Lilac Fairy' send us out into the cold, clear night, our hearts filled with love.
Visit the Queen's Film Theatre website for information on forthcoming screenings and events.