The Sleeping Beauty Storytime Ballet. The Australian Ballet. Choreography by Marius Petipa. Production and additional choreography by David McAllister. Music by P.I. Tchaikovsky. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre. Until Saturday, January 23. Bookings: canberratheatrecentre.com.au.
This production of The Sleeping Beauty, made especially for children from three years of age up, is an absolute delight. The full-length Sleeping Beauty is one of the great classical works in the international ballet repertoire, but The Australian Ballet has fashioned it into an easy-to-watch 50 minutes of theatrical enjoyment. The choreography, although truncated, is basically recognisable to those who know the full-length version, and dramatically the plot outline is intact. The story is narrated by one of the characters, Catalabutte, Master of Ceremonies and right-hand man to the King, and the whole experience is akin to one of those old-fashioned pantomimes where the audience is continually invited to participate by calling out to the performers and joining in with the fun, or the drama. Such a wonderful introduction to the ballet and the theatre in general.
The children in the audience at the opening show in Canberra responded beautifully. My favourite comment came towards the end of the show when Catalabutte invited the audience to the wedding of the Prince and the Sleeping Beauty after the spell of 100 years of sleep had been broken. "Thank you," shouted a solitary young voice from the back of the auditorium. Congratulations to the dancer who played Catalabutte, whoever he was. It was his strength in performance that allowed the young audience members to bond so well with the production. It is a shame that no cast list was available. I have a feeling that the dancers were new graduates from the Australian Ballet School, some of whom may have been given Australian Ballet contracts for 2016, but we only had a group photo on the program sheet, which was a lovely photo but basically useless for identification purposes.
My major issue was with the recorded music, which was at times very loud in what is the quite small space of the Playhouse. My six-year-old companion covered his ears on several occasions. A more subtle approach to the music would have been welcome. It's not a rock concert.
As a final comment, my young companion liked the Lilac Fairy best. She was the one who was able to overcome the evil Carabosse and allow a happy ending to take place. For him, and I suspect for all the future ballerinas and premiers danseurs in the audience, it was a special occasion.