Spirited ballet performance

The Sleeping Beauty
Royal New Zealand Ballet and Vector Wellington Orchestra St James Theatre, until November 5.

The spirited new production of this major classic has opened to capacity audiences, a popular open day, healthy bookings for the coming week, and a sold-out schools performance.

Gary Harris' heroic architectural sets and attractive costumes are inspired by the Italian Renaissance, and the set changes to music are intriguing.

Jon Buswell's lighting lends enchantment to delicious qualities caught by the mercurial cluster of fairies of good, while the shady world of the Black Fairy (Clytie Campbell wielding sinister power) is in appropriate contrast.

Greg Horsman's staging honours tradition and he has coaxed fine performances from many soloists, with male dancers soaring (Jacob Chown and Brendan Bradshaw as the prince's friends are outstanding).

The choreographic pace is lightened by wittily mimed interludes and priceless comic business with cats (credit to Shannon Dawson, Lucy Balfour and the team at Weta Workshop).

Bluebirds (Tonia Looker and Kohei Iwamoto) shimmered like flutes.

Demands of technique and stamina make the role of Princess Aurora among the toughest in the classical canon. Guest dancer Stella Abrera was in truly elegant command throughout, yet a rapport with her prince, Sergio Torrado, despite his beautiful dancing, has not yet developed the emotional depth the story invites.

Abigail Boyle created such a poetic Lilac Fairy that the whole production seemed to revolve around her as the force for good.

(I clambered into the garden at midnight to fetch a branch of lilac as a reminder.)

Vector Wellington Orchestra's cohesive rich sound and beautiful solo passages illuminated the choreography, with the lively lovely dancers returning the compliment.

Nigel Gaynor is a fine ballet conductor, reading the dancers not the score, and their resulting musical phrasing of movement is deeply satisfying. Audience members humming Tchaikovsky melodies as they head home afterwards has to be a good sign.

Opening night was poignantly dedicated to Wellington-born Alexander Grant who claimed his most memorable performance ever was the Royal Ballet's Sleeping Beauty, New York, 1946.

They say Fonteyn danced "as though to confirm peace after the dreadful war" and the applause lasted longer than the ballet.

Royal New Zealand Ballet production values are high, as always. Meridian have been terrific sponsors. New artistic director Ethan Stiefel is most welcome here.

I suppose Wellington does know how lucky it is.

The Dominion Post