Birmingham Royal Ballet: The Sleeping Beauty; Dimitris Papaioannou: Ink – review

<span>A way with the fairies… Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Yu Kurihara as Princess Aurora, Lachlan Monaghan as Prince Florimund and company in The Sleeping Beauty.</span><span>Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian</span>
A way with the fairies… Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Yu Kurihara as Princess Aurora, Lachlan Monaghan as Prince Florimund and company in The Sleeping Beauty.Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

When Peter Wright first created his production of The Sleeping Beauty for the renovated Birmingham Hippodrome in 1984, it was a significant stepping stone on the way to the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet’s move to the West Midlands city, where it became the Birmingham Royal Ballet, a jewel in the crown of the council’s policy of reviving the fortunes of the city through generous support of the arts.

How times change. The company’s current artistic director, Carlos Acosta, has mounted a 40th-anniversary revival just as the bankrupt local authority has withdrawn support from all the arts organisations it once part-funded. Birmingham Royal Ballet will survive, but the cut is a sign of how far artistic ambition in national and local government has receded from the high-water mark that this handsome, expansive production represents.

As Florimund, Lachlan Monaghan lends feeling and panache to possibly the most thankless prince role in ballet

Acosta himself still believes; his passion for making his company not only world-class but also accessible and enticing to new audiences is shown as much by this revival as it was by last year’s new commission Black Sabbath: The Ballet. The Sleeping Beauty is a work that puts a company through its paces, offering a workout for the dancers and magic for audiences.

Wright’s version is pretty traditional, with the Lilac Fairy and Carabosse, the good and bad fairies, fighting over Princess Aurora’s future, in long dresses and elaborate headdresses. “It’s Maleficent, only she’s not called that,” one mother explained to her young daughter as Carabosse appeared high on a bier carried by pirate-hatted attendants. In Daria Stanciulescu’s glittering performance, the bad fairy certainly commands attention; poor Eilis Small as her benign counterpart has a disappointing grey gown and rather too much mime to contend with.

Many of the costumes are originals, and Philip Prowse’s bronze, gold and deep red designs still gleam as the choreography moves briskly through the story, the dancers rising to its challenges with plenty of commitment and varying degrees of success. In the fairytale final act, Riku Ito and Beatrice Parma shimmered in the Bluebird pas de deux, and Sofia Liñares, who shone in various roles throughout, brought a sense of happiness to the celebratory pas de quatre.

Yu Kurihara is a very young and pretty Aurora; her nerves sometimes showed as she faced the technical demands of the famous Rose Adagio, but she’s light and lively and was beautifully partnered by Lachlan Monaghan as Florimund, lending feeling and panache to possibly the most thankless prince role in ballet.

Someone, though, needs to look at the lighting, which is often unaccountably dark and flat. Perhaps they should talk to Dimitris Papaioannou, the Greek choreographer, whose ability to conjure an entire world of shadows and highlights, of dark and light is once more on display in his latest work, Ink, at Sadler’s Wells in London.

Lit in stark contrasts by Lucien Laborderie and Stephanos Droussiotis, it looks utterly sensational, sometimes like a black hole, sometimes a silvery shell, a space surrounded by swathes of transparent plastic and full of water that arches from a jet making its own squelchy soundscape. In this mysterious arena Papaioannou (dressed in black) and the mainly naked Šuka Horn grapple for power and control.

Horn first appears crawling under sheets of heavy plastic that Papaioannou uses to imprison him like Frankenstein controlling the monster. Perhaps the battle is between id and ego, or wildness and civilisation. There’s also an octopus and a baby. The images tantalise and sometimes terrify, but they don’t always cohere.

Star ratings (out of five)
The Sleeping Beauty
Dimitris Papaioannou: Ink