Feb 4 2011 By Barry Dix
Vienna Festival Ballet presents Sleeping Beauty, at The Theatre Royal, Windsor
THE pantomime props have been packed away for another winter, but the season of festive fairy tales has lasted a little longer at Windsor’s Theatre Royal this year, with audiences enchanted by all the magic and sparkle of the classic old favourite Sleeping Beauty.
But don’t expect the usual trappings of a seasonal panto. There are no silly jokes, no outlandish dame, no hurling toffees into eagerly-grabbing hands in the auditorium.
This is the ballet version of Sleeping Beauty, as gentle and graceful as panto is raucous and rebellious.
At this point, let me make a confession. For the past five decades I’ve attempted to experience as many different live music-based forms of entertainment as possible, a quest that has included an astonishingly-eclectic mix, ranging from a Cajun band in a seedy New Orleans bar to Jonathan Miller’s unforgettable revival of Rigoletto at the London Coliseum.
However, until this week, I had never seen a live performance of a ballet.
It was not because of any inane prejudice towards the genre, simply the lack of opportunities to view such a spectacle.
Then this week that all changed, thanks to an invitation for my wife and I to attend the Vienna Festival Ballet’s touring production of Sleeping Beauty when it stopped off at Windsor.
Despite the name, the company is about as Austrian as Lancashire hot pot. It is apparently based in Barnes – more grey Thames than blue Danube.
It was founded by celebrated Austrian dancer Peter Mallek, with the intention of going on the road for months at a time, bringing full-length productions of traditional ballet to as many people as possible, at affordable prices.
And in that it has obviously succeeded.
The Theatre Royal was packed to the rafters and, judging from comments overheard during the evening, I wasn’t the only ‘ballet virgin’ among the female-dominated audience.
The limitations imposed by the size of the Theatre Royal stage, though obvious at times, were no handicap to the dancers who, from the list of other venues on their current tour, are obviously used to performing in such restricted areas of space.
Lack of knowledge of the finer points of ballet dictates that I am unable comment on the technical aspects of the production, but I can say that, sitting just a few rows from the front, it was possible to appreciate the sheer athleticism and physical strength of these dedicated performers as well as their lightness and grace of movement.
It helped, of course, that we all knew the story. After all it’s one of those tales of good triumphing over evil that is engrained in our minds from a very early age.
Melanie Cox as Princess Aurora is a delight, and received rapturous applause, as did Emily Hufton, who has danced with the English National Ballet and at Sadler’s Wells, and put in an equally-stunning performance as the Lilac Fairy
Phil King, whose CV includes performing with the Rambert Dance Company, gives a masterful display of skills.
It’s impossible here to extol the individual talents of all the cast, but I have to mention Jodie McKnight and Joseph Mackie-Graves, who almost stole the show with their Pussy Cat routine.
Being so close to the stage it was also possible to appreciate the subtle changes in the facial expression of each dancer.
Here, without a doubt, are performers absolutely immersed in their art and loving every minute of it, despite the pain and stamina-sapping demands.
Just one small gripe: the second half wedding celebration is just a little on the long side and at one point seems to be simply an opportunity for each of the leading members of the cast to show off their party pieces - several times over.
Even the three-year-old little girl sitting near us, who had been beautifully-behaved and thoroughly entranced by the goings-on, began to shuffle about during this section.
Nevertheless, this was a exquisite and joyful evening’s entertainment and a perfect introduction to the art-form.
I will certainly be going to the ballet again, thanks to this talented and enthusiastic company who are doing so much to share their passion with those, like me, who have never appreciated it before.
Sleeping Beauty is at The Theatre Royal until Saturday February 5.
Contact the box office on 01753 853888.