***** Enchantment is sure to entice you

28 Jan 14 - Cape Argus - Beverley Brommert

Charles Perrault would be astonished, but not displeased, by this imaginative staging on ice of his classic fairy tale. Gone are the archaic powdered wigs, knee-breeches and lavishly adorned tutus traditionally associated with The Sleeping Beauty, as well as the unprepossessing crone representing Carabosse, bearer of evil.

In their place are costumes of floating, layered elegance evocative of late Tsarist Russia just before the Revolution; and instead of a hideous old woman, this Carabosse is a darkly handsome male whose saturnine presence is every bit as unnerving as the deformity of the original witch.

A poisoned spindle is replaced by a spiked drink in the interests of realism to render Princess Aurora comatose, and the convention of a 100-year slumber is gently set aside… Moreover, the assorted fairies attending Princess Aurora’s baptism metamorphose into the baby’s elder sisters, come to do honour to the new arrival.

Sets devised by James Cundall also reflect an original approach to backdrops for this ice dance, with the imperial palace designed to accommodate dual-level skating (a clever innovation) and the use of live flame at dramatic moments – all of which adds to the visual enchantment of the show. And visual enchantment is what it offers in generous measure, with impeccable execution of Mercer’s choreography a significant element in delighting the audience.

Without exception, the sizeable cast tackle jumps, spins and complicated lifts with an audacious disregard for gravity as well as the limitations of human anatomy; on occasion skaters are suddenly air-borne on barely visible wires to swoop aloft at jaw-dropping speed.

Amid so much excellence it is not easy to identify individual performers, but oddly enough it is the cameo roles that linger in one’s memory after final curtain, possibly because the lead roles are predictably striking. The King, for instance, takes on a life of his own through Volodymyr Khodakivskyy’s warm portrayal of a normally two-dimensional character, and Aleksei Vasilev as Catalabutte, partnered by Svitlana Pylypenko, scorches the ice with high-octane dancing.

Of the main characters, Olga Sharutenko as the Lilac Fairy steals the show with her blend of grace, poise and enviable proficiency in meeting the challenges of pitiless choreography. Her unexpected partnership with Jurijs Salmanovs (Carabosse) is not only exquisite to watch; it concretises the confrontation between good and evil which is the motive force behind the legend of the Sleeping Beauty.

Bravura pas de deux from both secondary and main characters reward spectators more interested in the technical qualities of theatrical ice dancing than in mere eye-candy; but whatever expectations you bring to this Sleeping Beauty, it is highly unlikely you will be disappointed.

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