The Royal Ballet made its name with Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty, reopening Covent Garden’s knackered opera house in 1946 with a production that hearkened back to Russian Imperial grandeur while heralding the future of classical dance in this country. A drama of moral rebirth, Beauty is inevitably the technical and sentimental standard by which the current state of the company is judged.
On opening night, the confident collective tremor of pointe shoes across the stage seemed to prophesy something special: not just the arrival of princess Aurora to her fatefully prickly 16th-birthday bash, but the artistic arrival of Yasmine Naghdi in this most demanding of ballerina roles.
Naghdi has a subtler, more exacting stage presence than some of her fellow principals, but it’s no less special. There’s a shimmering poetic sensibility to her port de bras, a subtle but sonorous slant to her upper body. All eyes are on the Rose Adagio with its famous balances: Naghdi delivers with immanent assurance, adding a rubato touch to her next solo, brilliantly accompanied by concert master Sergey Levitin.
Orchestra and company alike respond brightly to Tchaikovsky’s score, with soloists Anna Rose O’Sullivan, James Hay and Mayara Magri dancing with verve and nerve. As the prince, Matthew Ball’s convincing melancholy modulates to exultant brio – he’s also a steadfast partner to Naghdi. While Marcelino Sambé’s Bluebird ascends with an eagle-esque power finessed with feathery-soft landings, Kristen McNally’s supremely disdainful Carabosse needs a mention, arriving on a diabolical mobility scooter powered by a squirming squad of giant rats. Total class.