two brilliant leads elevate this curious Royal Ballet favorite

Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell in The Royal Ballet's Sleeping Beauty - Bill Cooper

Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell in The Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty – Bill Cooper

The first re-enactment of one of the Royal Ballet’s signature works after curfew reminded you what a curious old fish he is. The score (Tchaikovsky) and the steps (Petipa) are – really – full of beauty. However, the three-hour plot is so serene it’s almost non-existent, making it a classic that needs to be danced exceptionally well if it’s going to be anything but a wake-up call. After all, when the evil fairy Carabosse (a perfectly sarcastic and impudent Wednesday night Itziar Mendizabal) threatens to make things interesting, the Lilac Fairy (Claire Calvert, sadly extinct) shows up, waves her magic wand and it’s all over again. exhaustingly good.

That night, the important preface didn’t look very promising either. Remarkably rich, though oddly antiseptic, Oliver Messel/Peter Farmer designs were present and accurate, and all of the “character”—that is, non-dancing—role was solidly presented. But of the five fairies, only soloist Mariko Sasaki (also III. : there is a profound lack of power there is worrying.

When Francesca Hayward’s 16-year-old Aurora debuted in Act I, it was as if a huge, fertile light had suddenly turned on. Everything was so restrained in those Act I solos—Ashton epaulement and 360-degree upper-body expression, easy lifting, instinctive musicality (not just following the note, but playing with it) and a kind of dewy pleasure from the movement—he suddenly shone out of this 5ft 2in wonder. . And if, six years after her debut, Rose still clearly finds the infamous quartet in Adagio – in the context of an otherwise blatant effortless performance – it both reminds you of how diabolical they are, and also a nice compliment to her young princess. adds vulnerability. She does these decently but with a bit of haste, and her Aurora’s more magnificent and mature III.

As Prince Florimund, who so far on the screen wakes up 116-year-old Aurora with a kiss and marries him in what feels like minutes later (it evokes 21st-century social realism, this isn’t it), Alexander Campbell was truly mesmerizing. While she’s not quite as physically linear dancer as Hayward, her strengths — her instinctive musical awareness and unpretentious technical liveliness, yes, but above all her ability to hold both the mind and heart of a character — largely overlap with hers, and on Wednesday they are typically irresistible. The couple did. He also openly agrees with Balanchine’s (either literal or apocryphal, but certainly applicable) statement that “Ballet is a woman”: although his solos here sparkle with personality, longing, and melancholy, while Balanchine is in his arms, he clearly appreciated and enjoyed the lead role. female supremacy.

In fact, as tempting as it may be to cut one star for the prologue’s shortcomings (plus, brass stealing hasn’t always hit the mark), I can’t quite persuade myself to do so given such a brilliant lead couple. When they’re that good, the whole, weird thing works, and whatever one’s doubts elsewhere, these are – Calvin Richardson’s III.

At the agency until June 6th. Tickets: 020 7304 4000; roh.org.uk

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