The costumes for the English National Ballet production of the ballet by Kenneth Macmillan are some of the most exquisite around. The tutus for the fairies, in particular, sparkle in the most magical way.
On its London opening night, the artists of the ENB felt alert and focussed, but cautious. Some of the very difficult steps – such as those from the first three fairy variations in the Prologue, which were pretty much all en pointe – were steady and efficient, but lacked charm, with Tchaikovsky’s music doing all the hard work of conveying the fairies’ different traits. The Act I Garland Waltz and Act II opener (which admittedly isn’t the most riveting) also felt flat.
That said, when the dancers do engage with the choreography, the ENB is capable of stunning stuff. The silver fairies pas de quatre in the final act was a case in point, the dancers’ springy, lightning-fast jumps and relevés in perfect harmony with the mischievous music. Elsewhere, James Streeter’s Carabosse was – though a little pantomime – fun, camp and blessed with comic delusions of grandeur.
Also worth noting is Shiori Kase, whose Songbird Fairy was the only in Act I to truly express her personality while also looking like she was having a great time – and the audience could sense it. I’ve always found the final act over-long and illogical, introducing a host of characters and short variations that would have fitted better earlier in the story. But Kase’s Princess Florine was sumptuous, with a lightness of touch despite the toughness of the choreography.
Kase was accompanied by Yonah Acosta as the Bluebird. He hasn’t quite acquired the pizazz of his famous uncle Carlos yet, but his considerable technical ability was certainly evident.
Vadim Muntagirov made a thoughtful Prince Désiré and, in the Act II “vision”, convinced the audience that he was possessed by Princess Aurora’s beauty in a way that only a young man could be. His partnering style was a little too laid back at times, letting his princess take all the glory – which could be down to the pair’s early partnership, or perhaps it was more of a deliberate show of the prince’s devotion. But when he really engaged with the part he was superb. His first Act III variation was one of the cleanest, crispest I’ve seen.
As good as these performers all were, the production really belonged to Tamara Rojo. She is in a class of her own – her Rose Adagio made full use of Tchaikovsky’s beautiful, sweeping music with long, suspenseful, rock-solid holds that – quite rightly – brought the house down. It’s a tough entrance for any ballerina, but she made it look not just easy but elegant.
At times, Rojo’s class and experience ran the risk of showing up the rest of the company. But as the new artistic director, it will be her role to bring everyone up a notch. It’s a big job, let alone for someone who is still performing. It’s too early to judge how well she’s running the company, but her dancing remained exquisite as ever. Catch her in the more intimate surroundings of the ENB before she retires to focus on the bigger picture.