Saturday afternoon at the New Theatre (5.00pm performance) was an extremely happy occasion, with an auditorium full of little girls (and one or two boys) mostly accompanied by their mothers. ENB’s cut-down version of The Sleeping Beauty is pitched somewhere between a pantomime and a ballet, the story narrated by an actress playing the adult Aurora as she watches the rest of the cast dance, mime and act out the fairy tale. An advantage of this approach is that it restores to prominence the nineteenth-century mime scenes.

The cast consisted of very young dancers from the English National Ballet School, and it is frustrating that although the programme gave their names with photographs, there was no cast list included. One of the great pleasures of the afternoon was to see so much energy and emerging talent, but I am unable to name individual dancers with any certainty.

Carabosse, dressed in Nicholas Georgiadis’ wonderful design to resemble Elizabeth I, was convincingly wicked, and the Lilac Fairy opened her famous variation with elegance. Princess Aurora, who had a lovely smile, tackled the Rose Adagio with courage and grace, and in the grand pas de deux she and her Prince performed the final fish dive with stylish confidence. There were many delightful moments from the dancers in smaller parts too. I particularly enjoyed the variation of the ‘Fairy of Strength’ for its attack and Aurora’s three friends acted and danced well. The whole cast coped efficiently with music that was pre-recorded, and so allowed no adjustments for different physiques.

Perhaps in order to shorten the show (and admittedly the full ballet is a long one), the Cats, Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, and the Blue Bird and his Princess were transferred to the Vision Scene in the forest, popping out from behind hedges. This meant rearranging the order of Tchaikovsky’s score, which disrupted the musical, narrative and choreographic progress towards the climax of the Apotheosis (which was cut all together).

The performance was great fun and I would gladly take a child to see it; but if it is intended to function as an introduction to ballet, the full ENB company must also come to Oxford, in order to consolidate their position with their young audience.

Maggie Watson

1 May 2016