Sleeping Beauty Masterclass

English National Ballet’s autumn season will begin with the much-loved The Sleeping Beauty danced by Tamara Rojo, newly appointed Artistic Director of the company.

Premiered in 1890, The Sleeping Beauty stands in ballet repertory as one of the best examples of Petipa’s mastery. It offers excellent opportunities for technical display, especially for the leading ballerina, and requires a large cast of dancers, many of them just to perform brief but highly challenging solos.

Photo by Patrick Baldwin

To launch this quintessential classical ballet, an intense and enjoyable masterclass took place last Thursday 4 October at Markova House. Warmly hosted by dance historian Jane Pritchard, former dancers David Wall and Alfreda Thorogood, in charge of restaging Kenneth MacMillan’s version, coached five dancers in three different excerpts of the ballet.

Francisco Bosch tried the demanding Blue Bird solo; James Streeter was transformed into the wicked Carabosse; Alison McWhinney’s sweet Lilac Fairy opposed him with gentle delicacy; and Erina Takahashi, partnered by Esteban Berlanga in the duets, faced the challenges of the famous Rose Adage with freshness and youthful joy. The instructions these hard-working dancers received from Wall and Thorogood insisted more in the artistry than in the technique. The expert couple polished just minor details. Aiming to help dancers create living characters, they emphasised qualities such as fluidity, musicality and interpretation.

Photo by Laurent Liotardo

Also present in the studio, Conductor Gavin Sutherland explained the strengths of Tchaikovsky’s score. He drew attention to the power of the melody to develop the plot, create the period atmosphere and convey the characters’ mood. He peppered his insightful commentaries with anecdotes about the experience of conducting for ballet.

The masterclass proved to be an enriching and pleasant evening. We learnt interesting aspects of the production, witnessed dancers tackling characters from the first time, and appreciated how the smallest nuance in a movement makes all the difference between a mechanical and a moving characterization. It will be thrilling to attend to the stage performances with this informed background. ENB will tour The Sleeping Beauty across the UK this autumn, before arriving at London in January. Rojo herself will play the role of Princess Aurora in several performances.

Cristina de Lucas