The first few moments of "The Sleeping Beauty" are staunchly telling about a company's dancing, and its deportment too. Britain's Royal Ballet, in rich costumes and amidst palatial settings that David Walker designed for this new production, showed right away an unostentatious lightness of step, an even clarity of movement and a finesse with detail that make it one of the handful of great, classical ensembles.
Nor was there the slightest breach of etiquette to a minor personage on stage as the court gathered for Princess Aurora's christening. This standard was maintained throughout last night's performance at Wolf Trap.
Yet there was a suggestion that the dancing and manners are not always generous. The dancers don't encompass space or seem to embrace the audience. Ninette de Valois, who directed the production, has used this negative quality in a positively ironic way to tell the story.
She hasn't changed the plot of how the princess awakens to womanhood and love. The good remains beautiful. Evil, though, while still ugly, has also become alluring in the character of Carabosse. This could only happen where people and their dancing are slightly stingy. Carabosse as portrayed by Monica Mason, is the one magnificent person on stage The good power, the Lilac Fairy, never takes her hat off at this party in Vergie Derman's rendition of the role.
De Valois has kept most of the traditional steps, though rearranging formations once in a while and adding some solos by Frederick Ashton, whose musicality is intentionally not quite that of the Petipa style.
Throughout this great mosaic of classical dancing there were first-rate performances. Jennifer Penney, the Aurora, had quicksilver speed, alert balances and seemed to expect the luxurious. David Wall, her prince, danced more heavily than when last seem here. Yet the neatness of his placement is remarkable. Marguerite Porter. Alfreda Thorogood, Wayne Eagling and Wendy Ellis were among the splendors of this "Beauty," but it was Monica Mason who starred.