The Sleeping Beauty | The Kiev BalletPhoto - Serge Thomann

There’s something really special about seeing a ballet on opening night. The orchestra warms-up, the ballet shoes shuffle behind the curtain, and the audience whispers expectantly. In the packed Canberra Theatre, we were ready for an evening of impeccable entertainment from the Kiev Ballet - a troupe of fifty-two dancers making their way around Australia on their national tour. Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty promised to deliver with its fairytale imagery and many opportunities for soloists to shine in well-loved roles.

Unfortunately, anticipation gave way to concern as a number of fumbles worked their way into the early stages of the performance. Nothing too scandalous - a loss of balance here, a stray prop or a tremble there. But in the context of this stately ballet, which was performed with its original, at times unforgiving choreography, these slips were difficult to miss. The Kiev Ballet prides itself on delivering quality on par with the best in ballet, so it was all the more disappointing that the young dancers’ displays of strength, balance, concentration and precision weren’t sustained throughout the entire performance.

Slip-ups aside, there were plenty of instances when the dancing, music, sets and costumes created mesmerising scenes. Tetiana Goliakova gave a strong performance as Princess Aurora, and after the more punishing introductory sequences were out of the way she hit her stride, showing genuine spark in her role. Her princely partner, Sergii Sydorskyi, flew around the stage, which sometimes seemed as if it wouldn’t be able to contain him. His lift and energy impressed the audience from the start, and he also managed to bring drama to his character, complimenting his athleticism. 

There are many roles that stand out in The Sleeping Beauty, but the Lilac Fairy is arguably the most important, as she directs the characters, fights off evil and spends a great deal of time centre stage looking enchanting. Even though Iuliia Trandasir wasn’t immune from the odd wobble, for the most part her willowy frame really did seem to float on air as she drifted between Aurora, her prince and her supporting cast of fairies. The dancers in these supporting roles shouldn’t be overlooked as they all had strong moments, despite a few lapses in unison.

Between all the poise and precision came Oleh Tokar’s Carabosse, the mischievous evil fairy come to curse our fair princess. Tokar clearly relished the physicality and humour of his lumbering, slapstick role, as did the audience. Other crowd favourites were the Puss-in-Boots and Red Riding Hood duos - roles that must be as fun to perform as they are to watch. Another highlight was the pairing of Viktor Ishchuk and Natalian Domracheva, who sailed through their bluebird pas-de-deux - a little gem kept for the final act of the ballet.

The other stars of the night were hidden down in the orchestra pit. David Stanhope and the Canberra Symphony Orchestra did a stunning job of bringing Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score to life, and reminded everyone just how important a live orchestra is in creating a complete ballet experience. 

The Sleeping Beauty wasn’t ballet perfection, but at times it did come close. There will be plenty for whom this just isn’t good enough, and that’s understandable - people want to see the best from an internationally renowned ballet school. At the same time, it seems a little unfair to begrudge these young, enthusiastic performers a chance to dance for an overseas audience simply because they still have a few years to go before they hit perfection. I suspect we didn’t see everything the company has to offer in this performance, and bet that subsequent evenings of The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake will show these dedicated dancers at their best.

Venue: Canberra Theatre
Dates/Times: Thursday, 15 May @ 7:30pm; Sunday, 18 May 6:00 pm
Duration: 143 minutes, including interval
Prices: $109.00 - $65.00

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