ILLNESS or injury on tour are a dancer’s working hazard and nightmare. And on Vienna Festival Ballet’s twice-annual nationwide sorties around the British Isles, the current one using only 14 dancers, the odds are raised that either can strike at any time.
are raised that either can strike at any time.
In Chiaki Korematsu’s case, it was the minute the final pre-tour rehearsal ended. The Japanese tripped and fell on her way out, ankle ligaments were torn, her tour ended before it started and tears flowed. In stepped her compatriot Akiho Sakuraba to become the Golden Vine Fairy in the christening celebrations of the baby destined to become the Sleeping Beauty, and also to dance Princess Florine in the Bluebird duet of the Final Act Divertissement – not to mention the company roles in which she was originally cast.
But what if you become ill? Unless it’s influenza - in which case being sent home safeguards the whole touring company - sickies are almost out of the question. The VFP offered to cover her but new Durban-born South African, Michaela Griffin, refused, and battled on instead through the evening with true stage trouper professionalism.
Yet you’d never have known. Who was she? None other than the girl with the Kate Middleton smile who danced Princess Aurora, alias the Sleeping Beauty herself. Balance-perfect in the litmus-test Rose Adagio at her 16th birthday party, she showed unexpected acting flair with flirty-rapport lookbacks to one of her four suitor Princes, in a set-piece she positively made smell of roses with her joyous reaction to the prospect of receiving one each from her excited male quartet.
That Duchess of Cambridge smile shone all evening long, whatever she may have been feeling inside. Valencia native, Miguel Piquer, he of the powerhouse leaps and double spins (or were they triples?), came to her aid once sweetly-authoritative Emily-Joy Smith as the Lilac Fairy had led him from the forest to her bedchamber.
And you’d have thought in hindsight that groggy Michaela would have stirred rather slowly from the kiss but no. This wasn’t even the Prince she had fancied at the party but in an instant she was up a and away with Prince Desiree into the future.
This unrealistic stage moment (she’s been asleep for 100 years, for heavens’ sake – you’d think she’d crawl to the shower) is no different from TV dramas where characters after a night’s slumber immediately rise without a trace of drowsiness or sleep in their eyes. But for a moment I thought that Miguel had time to kiss her early so that when Tchaikowsky’s wake-up music sparked, Aurora would have had time to adjust the daylight.
Not many young dancers have picked up a real baby, either, it’s evident from how the Lilac Attendants lift the infant from the cot in the Prologue. This is me telling life like it is to directors, of course.
Me the music lover telling directors how it is cropped up a few years back when VFB pruned out Tchaikowsky’s magically orchestrated vegetation-growth music that envelopes the castle in a century of vegetation, cocooning within its walls the sleeping court. Instead, the curtain still falls to signal the interval after Act 1 to the sound of an unresolved chord in a dominant tonality that makes it sound all rushed and unfinished. Restore this music, while exploiting the lighting, is my plea. I can see bleeding.
However, VFB artistic director Peter Mallek has turned his Sleeping Beauty into a two-Act story where the customary three saps the stamina of audience members knowing the ballet well and feeling it could be shorter without loss.
But Sleeping Beauty in Mallek’s hands and those of his own home-grown ballet mistress Emily Hufton, shows the fruits of ever-lengthening experience and assurance from 33 years of the company. There are subtle touches and extra details in the dramatisation and characterisation, the miming is more obvious, and with this, the prettiest of the three Tchaikowsky classics, gives the VFB’s usually superior touring wardrobe its chance to give the way it looks the full-value in florin and ducat.
What you can be sure of when VFB bring their show to town is their consistency of quality and delivery. The dancing, individually and ensemble, and the costumes with their ability to evoke opulence and glamour as well as authenticity, always score heavily.
The short pink and mint dresses of Aurora’s Friends seen in the Waltz with the four Garland Ladies, so sexy; the ravishing frothy and sparkling tutus of the four different fairies, so enchanting; the stunning silver and white full-length trains with feather collars of the wedding couple, so enthralling; all were typical examples.
And the original take on a character role. The wicked fairy Carabosse causes all the trouble with an evil aplomb and athletic virulence. No standard old hag but a right young bitch Anette Antal brilliantly was. And as for her two shock-horror ape slaves – it’s the stuff that singles out Vienna Festival Ballet from their less-seasoned rivals.
Would you believe, they are touring next autumn with a new ballet, Snow White? Full marks for endeavour, enterprise and ingenuity. Plus, of course, in this climate – the courage to deviate and fully create. It’s here on November 2 at 7.30pm.