Ballet Review: The Sleeping Beauty – Believing In Fairies, Or Swung By A Spindle

July 8, 2024




Joburg Ballet: The Sleeping Beauty / Staged by Sophie Sarrote / The Mandela, Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein, Johannesburg


The Sleeping Beauty story is nearly 700 years old and has been the source material and basis for scores of artistic endeavours, from French fairy tales to movies in which Angelina Jolie wears pointy hats. Pyotr Tchaikovsky set Ivan Vsevolozhsky’s interpretation (complete with the bizarre addition of Grimm fairy tale characters that have nothing to do with the original story) of the Charles Perrault version of the tale to music in 1889. Marius Petipa’s original choreography  remains the foundation of the movement in this new production, with former Teatro alla Scala soloist Sophie Sarrote moulding it to Joburg Ballet and their home turf.

For all of this input – and the piece’s prodigious length (something over two-and-a-half hours) – there is really not much plot in this ballet, with its major components being the christening of a young baby, the 16th birthday party of that same child (at which something bad happens), the introduction of a hero who will undo the bad thing that happened and a wedding marking the beginning of the “happy ever after” bit that all good fairy tales have. Working around this outline, everything else is more or less the dance equivalent of jazz: exquisitely talented people sharing the stage, each having a chance in the spotlight and then making way for the next person to have their solo.

This is not at all unpleasant to watch, mind, it’s simply that engagement with the narrative is limited because the story threads are rather stretched – and the arrival of Puss In Boots at one point is intended!

In the pit, the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Chad Hendricks, give vibrant life to Tchaikovsky’s score, including the many unintuitive musical endings (to this folk-rock songwriter’s ear, anyway) to many of the solos and pas de deux. It is always wonderful to hear these scores live, and the woodwind section in particular adds richly to the mood of each act.

On stage, familiar faces past and present help create a spectacle in character, lead and featured roles. Anya Carstens is a regal Queen; Kitty Phetla is a graceful but menacing presence as Carrabosse, the Wicked Fairy; Chloe Blair is beautifully expressive as Fairy of the Crystal Fountain and corps de ballet youngster Savannah Jacobson gives notice of something special to come as Fairy of the Golden Vine.

As Princess Aurora, Shannon Glover shows impeccable form in each of the technically demanding sequences she is charged with completing, as well as adding her customary authority to her character. Her now fellow principal dancer (he was promoted at the beginning of this run) Ruan Galdino adds his charisma and controlled flamboyancy as Prince Désiré after the interval, with the pair’s onstage partnership and understanding a thing of developing beauty.

Arguably the plum role in the piece, the Lilac Fairy (she has more stage time than the leads) is magnificently danced by Cristina Nakos with certainty and skill that are the equal of her colleagues in the more traditional lead roles, with her work and the character’s actions being a consistent line from the Prologue to the Wedding.

This production is a refined showcase for the collective proficiency and flair of the Joburg Ballet company and their guests (including petite Ballet Ireland principal Ryoko Yagyu in this performance), as well as for the orchestra accompanying them. An extravagant way to spend an afternoon or evening.