Depth in class yields a beauty every night

A beautiful production of ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ is back at the Royal Danish Ballet as this year’s Christmas ballet. The contemporary interpretation by one of today’s most-in-demand ballet choreographers, Britain’s Christopher Wheeldon, premiered two years ago and will once again be performed by the company’s current top-class dancers.

The production is traditional – Wheeldon’s choreography is often close to the 1890 original that Marius Petipa’s created at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg – without being stale. While the fairytale is left intact, Wheeldon has added a framework plot that links the tale about Sleeping Beauty to the real contemporary world. Instead of someone opening a fairytale book and the characters in it coming to life, this link is created by means of a painting of Sleeping Beauty. A young boy sees it during a museum visit with his family, returns years later and is invited into the canvas. Upon entering the fairytale world, he gradually transforms into Prince Desiré who kisses Sleeping Beauty and awakes her and the court.

The danced fairytale is visually anchored in the era it was written by Charles Perrault. Scenographer Jérôme Kaplan evokes French baroque and designs a Versailles-inspired court with baroque costumes for the courtiers. Mary Louise Geiger’s lighting adds depth to the two-dimensionally drawn scenography. In addition, a subtle video projection animates the stage when it, for instance, lets a hawthorn hedge grow to indicate the 100 years of sleep.

Amy Watson, who played Sleeping Beauty in the re-premiere, is a magnificent principal who has been with the Royal Danish Ballet for over a decade.

However, she is almost too sure of herself in her dancing and dramatic in her expression to convincingly dance the role of a 16-year-old. She is technically superb, but becomes truly dazzling only in the scene when she pricks herself with the spindle and falls asleep. Her coquettish refusal to drop the spindle, the subsequent gradual loss of control over her movements and ensuing panic is a fabulous example of telling a scene through extraordinarily expressive movement.

Gregory Dean makes a fine and very princely prince. But it is Jonathan Chmelensky as the Bluebird who really has the big night. His remarkable combination of agility and balance make the audience’s frenetic cheers well-deserved.

It might seem wasteful to cast outstanding dancers like the Alban Lendorf or Ulrik Birkkjær in roles that require almost no dancing. Although they are scheduled to dance Prince Desiré on other nights, they are not the only ones to whom such reasoning applies. However, the company’s corps de ballet is mainly made up of dancers who are so superb that a smaller part seems ill-suited to them: it faces the luxurious dilemma that it doesn’t have anyone obvious for the not-so-challenging parts.

For some time now, ballet master Nikolai Hübbe has been giving corps de ballet dancers the chance to prove themselves in leading parts. In addition, training them in the Danish Bournonville style – which is known for its expressiveness – has helped foster a troupe of outstandingly charming artists. As a consequence, regular ballet-goers will in each performance remember a fair proportion of those who appear in smaller roles as last month’s dazzling leads.

So there are three reasons to see this production of ‘The Sleeping Beauty’. See it if you’ve never been to the ballet, see it if you’ve seen a hundred other productions and think you are done with the piece, and see it if you’ve seen this version already, because with so many fabulous dancers sharing the lead roles, it’s differently splendid every night.

The Sleeping Beauty