The Sleeping Beauty

Frappé, fairies and fabric make this Scottish Ballet production unforgettable

Universally recognised as the grandest of grand ballets, Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty is the story of Princess Aurora, cursed by the evil fairy Carabosse to endure an endless, troubled sleep.

The third and final instalment of Scottish Ballet’s fairytale trilogy (following on from the successes of the The Nutcracker and Cinderella), this production from artistic director Ashley Page and designer Anthony McDonald is a visual as well as a musical masterpiece - a treat for aficionados, a revelation for novices.

Princess AuroraBased on the fairytale by Charles Perrault, The Sleeping Beauty is thematically simple but conceptually enchanting – a ballet in one prologue and three acts which spans three time periods and boasts one of the largest casts of any grand ballet.

It is a story of good and evil, embodied throughout by the scheming Carabosse and her virtuous twin sister, the Lilac Fairy, who clash for the soul of the newborn princess.

When Aurora pricks her finger and the curse is fulfilled, the royal court begin their hundred year sleep. That is until the dashing Prince, out hunting in the woods, encounters a vision of the sleeping beauty. Led by the Bluebird and his gang of fairytale favourites – Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Bell and Snow White –, he sets out to break the curse and free the princess.

As always, Tchaikovsky’s score is the star of the show. But it's Scottish Ballet's and conductor Richard Honner's ability to combine dance with Tchaikovsky's music that elevates this production into the realms of the unforgettable. 

Stationed above the pit so as to have a view of the dancers as well as the orchestra, Honner manages to keep the score in synch with Page's incredibly technical choreography, which this international cast of dancers perform to perfection. We can forget and forgive Soon Ja Lee's unfortunate slip in the prologue, as she pirouettes all up in the face of Carabosse in her role as the Lilac Fairy, keeping evil at bay and the audience entranced. 

Ashley PageThe unique thing about this production, however, is Page's resetting of the entire scenario. Traditionally the story is played out in the 18th century, but here Page begins the story in 1830, continues it with Aurora's sixteenth birthday party in 1846 and concludes the tale in 1946 - the same year that Sadler's Wells Ballet reopened the Royal Opera House after the Second World War and British ballet was born again.

Designing Regency and New Look, 1940s costume was certainly a challenge for set and costume designer McDonald, but one which he undoubtedly relished. His pieces are delicate, sumptuous and well-conceived. 

In the larger group routines the dancers flit and float, shimmer and sashay across the stage like life-sized Quality Street - a big budget Hollywood studio could not commission wares of better quality.

And McDonald's genius does not end with costume. His simple set for the forest scenes is deceptive - just when you think that trees are all you're going to get Aurora appears downstage, obscured behind an opaque screen like a 1940s screen siren. You would swear that it's a dusty projecter at work, but it isn't. Which leaves you wondering - why can't every production be this inventive?  

Carabosse Whether it be the talented Claire Robertson in the title role; the fact that so many young ballet enthusiasts are in the audience; or the cheeky way in which Page clears the path (heretofore littered with sword-wielding admirers) for the prince to take the hand of his heroine, there are so many talking points that it is virtually impossible as a reviewer not to bubble over with praise, spitting superlatives into every sentence. 

If you haven't experienced ballet, it doesn't get any better. If you've already seen this Scottish Ballet production, hard luck - for you, surely it's all down hill from here.

Lee Henry

The Sleeping Beauty runs in the Grand Opera House until February 7.