Review: My First Sleeping Beauty

Following their hugely successful Angelina Ballerina ballets of past years, the English National Ballet has brought the magical world of ballet back to an audience of children once more with a brand new series of ‘My First’ ballets, beginning with My First Sleeping Beauty. Stopping off on its tour at York, an army of wand-waving, tiara-wearing hugely excitable mini-princesses and princes descended on the Grand Opera House to delve into this wondrous kingdom of wicked spells, magic fairies and true love.

Performed by graduating students from the English National Ballet School and choreographed by award-winning former Royal Ballet soloist Matthew Hart, this was a production that aimed to make ballet accessible and understandable to children as young as three without losing the professionalism, technique and artistry of a normal ballet. With Princess Aurora’s nurse narrating us through the action and a strong pantomime element throughout, it enthralled the imaginations of the children and had them booing, cheering and no doubt carefully sussing out their career plans as the next prima ballerina.

The stunning Nicholas Georgiadis costumes and magical set also added to the fairy tale atmosphere that saw emotions soar in moments of romance and chill in the presence of the evil fairy godmother. The production did, however, lack that final sparkle that comes from having a full orchestra play out Tchaikovsky’s unforgettable score. Also, the occasional slip, wobble and dodgy pirouette, whilst to some extent expected from a cast still in their training, at times made for rather awkward viewing.

©English National Ballet

By taking away the formalities of the ballet and adding in the dimension of verbal engagement with the audience, I think My First Sleeping Beauty is a very clever idea designed to expand participation in what some may feel is an increasingly out-dated art form. However, I do wonder if these alterations to some extent strip away some of the dreamy fascination I remember from watching my first ballets as a little girl, principally because I feel a lot of the wonder of ballet in fact stems from its distance, its muteness and its apparent untouchability. For very young children though, and those completely unfamiliar with the ballet, My First Sleeping Beauty is an excellent starting point for children to take their first steps, springs and leaps onto the journey towards a love of the world of dance.

My First Sleeping Beauty is at York Grand Opera House until Sunday 29th April. Details of the tour can be found here.

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