To watch any ballet company perform The Sleeping Beauty (and any leading ballerina in the role of Aurora) is revealing. With its hierarchal structure and exacting academic demands, the ballet requires a substantial combination of talent and technique. It also asks that the artists charged with recreating its 19th century grandeur posses the sophistication of means to find space within its classical rigor; to go beyond its correctness, to dance.

Chihiro Uchida and Kenya Nakamura in the <i>Sleeping Beauty</i> © Bernie Ng
Chihiro Uchida and Kenya Nakamura in the Sleeping Beauty
© Bernie Ng
On opening night Chihiro Uchida, usually a lovely dancer, was rather tentative. When Aurora makes her first entrance, eager but unrushed, we must meet both Aurora, the princess and Aurora, the young girl. In both the fleeting footwork choreography and with the light, airy jumps we should feel her effervescent joy. Later, when Aurora, balancing on one leg, passes from suitor to suitor, she exemplifies in her regal control and finesse a princess’s coming of age. But when the transitions steps are not measured, or when a dancer’s lacks technical reach, the intensions of the movement; its form, its logic and its very purpose are somewhat diminished. This is one ballet where lines and feet must express clarity. Uchida was convincingly girlish but her phrasing in the rose adagio felt a little lethargic. Later, her vision scene lacked that essential enigma. Still, there were rewarding moments in a serenely poised third Act. Her prince, Kenya Nakamura, offered little in the way of a characterisation (the production assigns him a reduced role) but danced with technical flair.

With its pastel colours and open sets there is a - shimmering - lightness about this production that seems symbolic of the company dancing it; young, tremulous, on the cusp of becoming. And although some of the supporting soloists seemed too contained, too circumspect with both step and music; they show great promise. Li Jie, elegant onstage, imbued the Lilac Fairy role with a pleasing, gentle lyricism and she negotiated the role’s technical demands with ethereal ease. With time and experience, she will gain its requisite weight. The corps too, looked engaged, stylistically coherent, rather than just prosaically unified in step.

Singapore Dance Theatre in the <i>Sleeping Beauty</i> © Bernie Ng
Singapore Dance Theatre in the Sleeping Beauty
© Bernie Ng
A word here about the music. Without a live orchestra, sometimes one felt that the dancers were left dancing through a musical vacuum. The shortening of legato passages and the prolonging of faster sections enervated much of the score’s vibrato and undermined its spontaneity. To maintain vitality in imposed stasis and to find space in compressed passages eluded, understandably, some of the company featured dancers. Still, Nanase Tanaka was a flutteringly feminine Princess Florine and Chua Bi Ru, a radiant fairy of beauty.

Sleeping Beauty tests not only a dancer’s ability to dance but an entire company’s understanding of the classical lexicon. Based on this performance alone, its obvious Singapore Dance Theatre has come a long way since its first attempt at staging this ballet.