Friday, February 20, 2015

The Sleeping Beauty, Tokyo Ballet, Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, 7 Feb 2015

Dan Tsukamoto and Mizuka Ueno, photo by Shinji Hosono
A recent getaway to Japan meant I got to catch the Tokyo Ballet performing this classic -- supplementing an Eastern flavour in my ballet diet that's been sadly missing. This production was staged by Valdimir Malakhov (who also danced Carabosse), with Mizuka Ueno as Aurora and Dan Tsukamoto as Prince Desire.

This review is a light one, mostly because I somehow remained helplessly disengaged throughout the piece. Usually when I've watched a performance, words come pouring out, tumbling over each other in a race to describe the emotions I've just felt and spectacle I've seen. Reviews like The Chorus write themselves in the space between ordering and getting my food; ones like Cassandra, while sitting on a cold bench in Covent Garden waiting for Manon to start. But other times -- as with this production -- the piece is merely... passable, and offers no easy way for my soul or psyche to enter.

It's perhaps because I've seen Sleeping Beauty too many times, and there was nothing remarkably new about this production (except for a shockingly pink colour palette). I must also learn to stay away from a ballet I find to be terribly lacking in the dramaticism I usually crave, has a storyline I find completely inane, and that appears to benefit little from varying interpretations. (Perhaps I should also stop watching ballets within 12 hours of getting off a plane.)

Regarding the dancing, Mizuka Ueno was technically excellent, but she has a style of attack and sharpness in her movements which I somehow felt were unsuited to Aurora, whether in birthday, dream, or wedding mode. I'm probably reading far too much into it but it made Aurora come across very petulant, to the point that I was satisfied when she was pricked and put to sleep. All in all she was great, but simply not my cup of tea in this production.

Dan Tsukamoto as Prince Desire (/Florimund) was also technically proficient, but I found his performance to be underwhelming. He was stable, had height, confident partnering, but I suppose I've come to expect a certain level of showmanship. The jumps in his solos were clean entrelac├ęs, without the multiple battus often squeezed out of the Prince's short time in the limelight. Even Ueno had the same no-nonsense approach to Aurora's famous balances -- cleanly, but very quickly, transitioning from one suitor's hand to another, with no long grand breath-suspending hold in between, even though it was clear she could have managed it.

The only one who really caught my attention was Malakhov himself as Carabosse (whom I didn't recognize until reading the programme after, as the star of my much-loved and worn DVD of Mauro Bigonzetti's Caravaggio.) His gestures were evil, alluring, interesting, reaching the distance to my 2nd level seat which none of the other dancers had been able to traverse. Interestingly, I found his curse scene to be almost a second-to-second and sentiment-to-sentiment match to Monica Mason's.

As for the rest of the cast, none were too outstanding, especially with the more than occasional premature falling-off-pointe during a pirouette, to the point that my friend expressed "concern for their safety". We found Bluebird and Florine to be standout however, both having a breathtaking lightness and fluidity, but sadly I couldn't decipher who they were from the Japanese programme.

In conclusion -- that's it, no more Sleeping Beauty for me.

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