While Nutcracker is a sugary confection bursting with toothsome numbers and Swan Lake seeps tragedy from its first watery bars, Sleeping Beauty is the Tchaikovsky ballet for the connoisseur. It marks the apex of Russian Imperial style, a fairy tale full of grandeur, an exquisite Fabergé egg boasting ballet’s most sumptuous, symphonic score. It can be a difficult work to bring off – it’s long and nothing happens in Act 3 – and, despite an Aurora of gauzy delicacy from Alina Cojocaru and brilliant orchestral playing, English National Ballet’s latest revival of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s gem lacked a little lustre.

Alina Cojocaru (Aurora) © Laurent Liotardo
Alina Cojocaru (Aurora)
© Laurent Liotardo

Beauty was a work close to the heart of MacMillan who produced three stagings, the third of which – for Mikhail Baryshnikov’s American Ballet Theatre in 1987 – is now on ENB’s books. Nicholas Georgiadis’ costumes are opulent, spanning the action from Louis XIV to Louis XV, while Peter Farmer’s sets have a gentle, Watteau-esque quality. MacMillan never deviates far from Marius Petipa’s choreography, which provides any company with a rigorous classical workout.

Towering above the cast was the diminutive Romanian, Alina Cojocaru. From Princess Aurora’s first entry, she charmed the Coliseum audience, dancing with warmth and quiet authority, not an ebullient 16-year old, but a wide-eyed teenager, entirely natural and believable. There was admirable eye contact with each of her prospective suitors and she danced the Rose Adage with tremendous finesse, bashful in her solo variation. She shimmered in the Vision scene, while she glowed confidently in the Wedding pas de deux, demonstrating Aurora’s journey into womanhood.

James Streeter (Carabosse) © Laurent Liotardo
James Streeter (Carabosse)
© Laurent Liotardo

Joseph Caley, who joined ENB as Principal in January, made for an understated Prince Désiré, full of elegance and courtly manners. He made for a sensitive partner for Cojocaru, especially in the Act 3 pas de deux, but the chemistry between the two is still at the developmental stage, the fish dives tackled a little gingerly. James Streeter camped up Carabosse tremendously, dressed like a feral Queen Elizabeth I with red wig, black diamantine ruff and powdered face, menacingly accompanied by bald imps. Shiori Kase met the challenging Italian fouettés in her first solo well, a Lilac Fairy of grace and quiet determination, if not imparting a great deal of character.

And that was a problem in a performance which sputtered and only rarely caught fire. Begoña Cao displayed easy poise and a winning smile as the Fairy of the Crystal Fountain, yet, despite technically assured performances, there was little personality to many of the fairy solos until Alison McWhinney glittered as Diamond in the Wedding divertissement. The Garland Waltz had pretty pastoral grace, but the corps was not always neat and tidy in Act 2’s Vision scene. The fairy tale character dances came off better, especially Connie Vowles’ coquettish White Cat and Daniel McCormick, eating up the stage in huge leaps and turns as an athletic Bluebird.

Rina Kanehara (Princess Florine) and Daniel McCormick (Bluebird) © Laurent Liotardo
Rina Kanehara (Princess Florine) and Daniel McCormick (Bluebird)
© Laurent Liotardo

Gavin Sutherland drew vibrant colours from the English National Ballet Philharmonic, a highly-charged theatrical performance from the whiplash prelude thundering Carabosse’s motif to the brassy pomp of the Apotheosis. Woodwind solos bristled with character. If only a little more character had transferred to the stage.