Jo Turbitt reviews Scottish Ballet's latest production, finding it to be a fitting end to mark artistic director Ashley Page's exit from the company.
The Sleeping Beauty is a treasure trove of artistic delights, from the graceful power of the dancers to the colourful stylistic and era-evocative sets and costumes. Ashley Page and his production team have produced a strong show, demonstrating that our national ballet company deserves its place on the global stage. Clearly responding to the timeless Tchaikovsky score, the company have interpreted the story and music with sensitive re-invention.
Choreographically the work is stronger than previous Page creations which I've seen. It occurred to me that what he does extremely well is classical ballet within a contemporary context/setting and idea. This, however, does not extend to moments of contemporary quirky movements within classical ballet; when this happens it feels disjointed and leaves a feeling of "eh?". Structurally the show involves and showcases the work and strength of the corpe/ensemble a lot more than the traditional narrative balletic fairy tales; the majority of both the first and second acts are packed with luscious ensemble work which fills the stage with majesty and energy. (I love watching Scottish Ballet dance as an ensemble; they seem to connect and respond to each other, but more to the point, they seem to thoroughly enjoy what they're doing!) The soloists have moments during the first two acts but are showcased (perhaps to the extreme) in the third. While all are stunning to watch and bring a tapas of talent, flavours and personality to the work, if Page had found different places for these more amongst the first and second acts I believe they would have had a bigger impact.
The story has been given a contemporary context. Page nearly did a "Bourne" but resisted from completely losing the original story (which is another strength of this work): moving from one era to the next between acts, using time and Beauty's deep sleep as the reason for the change. Taking it in a purely modern setting would ruin the classical innocence, the history and grandeur of the classic piece. Time travelling between centuries is a clever and interesting idea which lends itself to three different visual spectacles within one show. The designers must have been in heaven: three concepts, three different designs, no restrictions to one style within one show. Each act’s set and costume design were delicate yet vibrant in colour and ideas.
The dancers perform their characters and the choreography with wit, charm and an abundance of delightful joy. Evil or good, they give an intriguing performance. I'm a sucker for baddies, and Carabosse satisfied my appetite and then some. She and her two minions had the stage craft, talent and intuition of the best supporting actors in a piece of theatre. The charm and impish delight of the sprites/fairies was gorgeous to watch as they danced solos and duets; it was here that I particularly was blown away by the awesome power of the male ensemble in Scottish Ballet. Brilliant.
Scottish Ballet's offering to the Christmas/New Year season is gorgeous in concept, design and performance. Page has recreated his work from 2007 to produce a final farewell show, leaving his creative flare, concepts and artistic expression imprinted on the history of the company. I haven't been a fan of his work in the past, but this has hit the right note in its quality, intention and creation; the right one to mark his end as artistic director.