Cape Town City Ballet

September 6, 2002

Aurora’s forest friends preen in Jean-Paul
Comelin’s The Sleeping Beauty.

Pat Bromilow-Downing, courtesy

Cape Town City Ballet

Cape Town City Ballet

Artscape Opera House
Cape Town, South Africa

September 6?15, 2002

Reviewed by Margaret Willis

Jean-Paul Comelin’s The Sleeping Beauty, which he has created for Cape Town City Ballet, is a complex mix of fairy tale and reality. Like a Russian Faberge egg, the splendor of the nineteenth-century ballet is encased in an intricate and detailed shell?a scenario that aims to make the ballet pertinent to twenty-first century newcomers. Filled with visual delights and elegant images, this new look flits constantly through time barriers, switching from a modern ballet studio to nineteenth-century performance, from historical costuming to contemporary dress, from fairies and fantasy to film crews and clapper boards.

Comelin’s version hangs on a cobwebbed connection of three Auroras, signifying the past, present, and future. In the story-within-a-story, the pivotal figure is Madame C, a former ballerina and the great-great niece of Carlotta Brianza, who created the role of Aurora in Petipa’s original 1890 production. Now a teacher, Madame C relives her memories by handing down her experience (in a callous manner) to two dancers?an Imperial Ballet ballerina preparing to perform the role with her company, and a present-day, pink-leotard-clad student. Their complicated interweaving with the traditional Sleeping Beauty ballet ultimately suggests that they are one and the same, and represents Madame C’s life as a ballerina.

Comelin has preserved much of Petipa’s original choreography for the big scenes of the ballet, but he has juxtaposed the action and made obvious cuts to suit the new scenario. In this version, Aurora doesn’t wake with a kiss until the apotheosis, after the Wedding scene. The curtain rises to show Madame C reading to very young pupils, who then briefly mime the story of the ballet in dress-up clothes. Behind them, dancers in long Romantic tutus and shawls warm up “onstage” for their performance in a scene straight from a Degas painting?until the arrival of the stage crew in boiler suits and leather jackets. The “real” Beauty production begins not at court but in a forest, where Aurora is surrounded by frolicking furry and feathered creatures, straight from a Disney film. Her four cavaliers for the Rose Adagio are none other than Puss in Boots, the Bluebird, the Wolf, and the Beast, who go on to perform their duets for the entertainment of the Prince and Aurora in the Vision scene rather than at the wedding.

Then, after Aurora has vanished and the Prince has battled with Carabosse, the scene shifts back to the company rehearsal. Here the leading duo, obviously lovers offstage as well as on, perform a passionate and fluid neoclassical pas de deux. In Act III, the animals don courtly clothes for the wedding celebrations, and Aurora and her Prince perform the traditional grand pas. But as Tchaikovsky’s music swells to its grandiose conclusion, a modern-day camera crew suddenly appears, filming the ballet in a less-than-courtly manner. It is after this that the story backtracks to Aurora’s kiss from the Prince, and at the same moment, Madame C is awakened from her reverie by her former partner, now ballet master. The ballet ends with the opening scene where she is reading the fairy tale to her smallest pupils.

Comelin’s conception of Beauty will not provide the company with a production it can tour as was hoped?there are too many scene changes and lighting requirements. But it is nonetheless an attractive and different classical addition. Comelin has expanded the traditional text with imaginative and attractive choreographic embellishments that flow easily: The animals enter in a crisscross of flying jetés, the romantic duet of the lovers shows breathtaking lifts and silky transitions, and the company rehearsal scenes demonstrate the effort and artistry of ballet.

Despite the added complications to a straightforward scenario, the South African audiences enjoyed the evening. The Cape Philharmonic Orchestra rose to the occasion under the careful guidance of guest conductor Naum Rousine, from Durban via Kazan, Russia. Peter Cazalet worked wonders with the sets and imaginative costumes (many of which, due to economic reasons, had been recycled from earlier theatrical productions), and the subtle lighting by John T. Baker was most effective.

Marianne Bauer made a delightful Aurora, dancing with soft and graceful lyricism and strong technique. Her Prince was Johnny Bovang, who was courtly and elegant. Michelle Louw as the Fairy Godmother (and second-cast Aurora) demonstrated fine lines and excellent jumps. The dual role of Madame C and Carabosse was taken by the executive director of the company and director of the school, Elizabeth Triegaardt, whose miming was superbly scathing?one can only hope that her real-life demands in the studio are more kindly. The company, which has been cut in half in recent years due to the cessation of state funding in 2000, worked very hard and there’s obviously much talent. It may have been a convoluted Beauty with many quick costume changes, but each dancer made the evening an enjoyable one.