The Sleeping Beauty is one of my favourite fairy-tales, Disney films, music scores… well, one of my favourite just about anything. For me, the ballet The Sleeping Beauty sums up everything that first delights any newcomer to ballet – young or old, the magic of the story and music has a mesmerising effect, and it rightfully maintains its position as one of the world’s most-loved ballets. I have seen it performed before by a small touring company, and was rather disappointed after a lacklustre production, but the English National Ballet quickly reaffirmed my faith in their performance at Oxford’s  New Theatre.

The courtly scenes are expertly staged and choreographed. The courtiers form linear interlacing patterns perfectly suited to Tchaikovsky’s weaving waltzes. The contrast between the world of the court and the natural world, represented by the fairies, does not feel disjointed or unnatural – perhaps due to the rather bucolic charm of the courtiers’ waltz and the positioning of the courtiers, framing the fairies within a ring of admiring faces.

Carabosse and her pack of sycophantic minions seems more than a match for the ethereal performance of Alison McWhinney as the Lilac Fairy. In a heavily characterised and stylish performance involving mime and punchy, staccato gestures, Shevelle Dynot brought an imperious air and threatening presence to the snubbed, and often rather limp, villain.

The outstanding set and costumes were such a treat for the eyes – I could hear the audience gasp as fog clouds the stage and a mechanised boat appears to guide the Prince to Aurora. This level of showmanship, combined with the familiar characters and enchanting music, makes it the perfect production to take children to.

The most memorable part for me will always be the Puss in Boots and the White Cat duet. The characterisation of the movements contains an element of humour, often lacking in ballet. It is this humour that works against the distancing effect of all the aloof and impressive beauty and grace to forge a connection with the audience. In this dance the performers are brought to life, and the audience can see them, not as porcelain ballerinas spinning inside a jewellery box to a Tchaikovsky tune, but as artists.

Eleanor Jones

Advertisements