LAST EDITED ON 16-Jan-00 AT 09:59 AM (GMT)
Rudolf Nureyev's production of "The Sleeping Beauty" for the Paris Opera Ballet is far grander in scale and more lavish than his production in the late 1970s for the London Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet), which was my first experience of this classic. This present 1997 Paris production was based on Nureyev's 1989 production for the Paris company; but Nicholas Georgiadis' costumes and sets have been replaced by new glittering costumes by Franca Squarciapino and grand Versailles-inspired sets by Ezio Frigerio. This same team had also collaborated with Nureyev for his production of "La Bayadere" for the Paris Opera Ballet premiered in October 1992 several months before his death.
At the Opera Bastille on 7 January, Aurora was danced by Sylvie Guillem, arguably the most celebrated ballerina in the world at present. Miss Guillem has in fact been guesting more often with the Paris Opera Ballet in the past two years. Guillem was on this occasion in peak technical form, and was superbly partnered by the noble Laurent Hilaire who replaced the injured Nicolas Le Riche.
Guillem was a radiant princess in Act 1. I particularly remember her ravishing dancing in that diagonal in her variation in this act where she did 'ronds de jambe en l'air' with arms en couronne. The way her working leg incisively traced an arc in each 'rond de jambe' with such delicacy was ravishing to watch. In Act 3, Guillem was more radiant still. She was serene in the grand pas de deux. Her dancing in the grand pas de deux was full of technical surprises, and her solo was a wonder of contrasts - speed and slowness, tenderness and grandeur.
Laurent Hilaire, a perfect Prince, also shone in this final act with his virtuosic brilliance. Who would have expected Hilaire, half-way through his manege of grands jetes, to suddenly double up in speed! In the Act 2 forest scene, Hilaire distinguished himself in the two solos choreographed by Nureyev. Hilaire's dancing here had a creamy smoothness. He was romantically languorous in the first solo, and showed off his high jumps in the second more aerial solo.
Among the supporting roles, I admired Marie-Agnes Gillot in the sixth fairy variation in the Prologue which in most other productions is danced by the Lilac Fairy. However in this Nureyev production, the Lilac Fairy is turned into a mime role, no doubt to better contrast with Carabosse; so this variation is danced by another fairy. The Lilac Fairy and Carabosse were danced respectively by Muriel Halle and Nathalie Aubin that night.
In Act 3, Yann Saiz was marvellous in the pas de cinq of jewels, coping very well with the difficult changes in direction of his jumps in his solo. Delphine Moussin and Benjamin Pech dazzled in the Bluebird pas de deux. Moussin's legwork was powerful, yet her legs also conveyed lightness and playfulness. Pech's series of 'brises voles' in the coda were impeccable.
A few points of interest regarding this Nureyev production are worth mentioning. Unlike the Royal Ballet version, the six fairies do unsupported pirouettes in the line-up in the Prologue instead of supported pirouettes. When Carabosse mimes her curse on Aurora, Aurora appears in a vision at the back of the stage to illustrate her prophecy. And the episode in the beginning of Act 1 where the Queen begs the King for clemency to spare the lives of the three knitting women is more drawn out than in other productions.
The fact that the Lilac Fairy is a mime role necessitates the alteration of the climax in Act 1 where in the Royal Ballet production she does those wonderful 'pas de bourrees' sending the Court into a hundred years' sleep. And I also miss the final blessing by the Lilac Fairy in Act 3 in the Royal Ballet production after all the wedding divertissements.
The Orchestre de l'Opera National de Paris did justice to Tchaikovsky's masterpiece, under the masterly baton of David Coleman. Squarciapino's elaborate costumes were a constant feast for the eye.