Review: The Sleeping Beauty (Hong Kong Arts Festival)

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This year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival closed spectacularly with an exciting performance of The Sleeping Beauty danced by the Mikhailovsky Ballet from St Petersburg. This production of the 19th century masterpiece was created by Nacho Duato, the well-known Spanish dancer/choreographer during his time at the Mikhailovsky Theatre between 2011 and 2014.

Duato trimmed the classic to only 150 minutes, making this 2011 production accessible to ballet beginners as well as experienced fans. The most outstanding component of the production are the lavish sets and costumes by Angelina Atlagic. The Rococo designs are sumptuous – the backdrop for the forest scene in act two is particularly beautiful. The lighting, however, could have been brighter at times, especially in the first act.

Peter Ferenac ably conducted the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, but Duato’s choreography fails to improve the original choreography by Marius Petipa, who created this classic in 1890 for the Imperial Theatres. Duato has added unnecessary embellishments, mostly in the form of twisting of the arms and tilting of the head, and he frequently uses some off-balance steps. The removal of Princess Aurora’s solo in act one is particularly regrettable, since it diminishes the ballerina role, forfeiting an opportunity for the ballerina to make an impression with the audience early on in the production.

Nevertheless, the Mikhailovsky company’s dancing was of good quality. The highlight were those in the leading roles. Leonid Sarafanov in particular, formerly a star of the Mariinsky Ballet, as Prince Desire, stood out most. Duato had created this role specifically for him in 2011. Sarafanov’s dancing was clean, stylish and was exemplary in its technical precision and ease of execution.

His Aurora on the closing night was Polina Semionova, a principal of the American Ballet Theatre and also a regular guest of the Mikhailovsky. Blessed with a well-proportioned body and a beautiful long line, Semionova was radiant as the princess. Her dancing was polished and sparkled brightly. Her partnership with Sarafanov was an exciting one, especially compared to Sarafanov’s earlier partnership with Angelina Vorontsova, who lacked the required authority for the role.

Praise was also due to the bone-thin principal dancer, Ekaterina Borchenko, who was graceful as the Lilac Fairy. As the evil fairy Carabosse, it was a treat to see Farouk Ruzimatov, another former star of the Mariinsky, who has started dancing character roles of late. He was absorbing in the role. Sabina Yapparova shone as Princess Florine in the Blue Bird duet. Kevin Ng

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