Fairy tale ballets don’t come with a higher classical pedigree than The Sleeping Beauty. Premiered in St Petersburg in 1890, it is the epitome of Imperial style and Sir Peter Wright's 1984 production – created for Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s predecessor –  is largely based on Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s original choreography. Traditional and opulent in tone, it has stood the test of time well although, apart from some strong central performances, this opening night of its tour in Southampton didn’t always convince me that the work has a place of adoration in the company’s heart.

Nao Sakuma (Carabosse) and Jenna Roberts (The Lilac Fairy) © Bill Cooper
Nao Sakuma (Carabosse) and Jenna Roberts (The Lilac Fairy)
© Bill Cooper

Wright’s version has Jenna Roberts’ Lilac Fairy as more of a character dancer than one of the tutued fairy godmother ballerinas who bestow their gifts on the infant Aurora. In a flowing lilac gown with extravagant sleeves, she is here more of a counterpart to Carabosse, the fairy who’s been absent-mindedly missed off the guest list, haughtily danced by Nao Sakuma. Both roles rely heavily on mime – such a key element of this ballet – and every gesture was crystal clear, although the excellent programme featured a guide to ballet mime for beginners, including the fairies’ exchange where the Lilac Fairy counteracts Carabosse’s vow of death after Aurora will prick her finger with a sentence of a hundred years’ slumber instead.

Momoko Hirata (Princess Aurora) © Bill Cooper
Momoko Hirata (Princess Aurora)
© Bill Cooper

There are some nice touches in Wright’s version. We see an early indication that Catalabutte, the Master of Ceremonies, is forgetful, setting up Carabosse’s outrage, and the Lilac Fairy leads Prince Florimund to the sleeping Aurora through a sea of dry ice, without a carriage or sleigh to stall or clunk awkwardly across the stage. Changes in costume style in Act 2 nicely indicate the advance of a century. In 2010, Wright restored a number from Act 2, an Entr'acte symphonique (No.18 in the score) as a tender pas de deux after Florimund has awoken Aurora with a kiss, a moment of intimacy to close the act rather than the peremptory flourish that usually ends the scene too abruptly.

Momoko Hirata (Princess Aurora) and Mathias Dingman (Prince Florimund) © Bill Cooper
Momoko Hirata (Princess Aurora) and Mathias Dingman (Prince Florimund)
© Bill Cooper

Momoko Hirata danced a radiant Aurora, oozing quiet confidence from her first entry. Her steely balance on pointe impressed in the Rose Adagio, followed by a lovely solo where precision was matched by girlish charm. Florimund has less opportunity to make stamp much in the way of character, but Mathias Dingman was an amiable prince, a sensitive partner to Hirata, with two of the three fish dives in the Act 3 grand pas cleanly executed.

Momoko Hirata (Aurora), Mathias Dingman (Florimund) and Company © Bill Cooper
Momoko Hirata (Aurora), Mathias Dingman (Florimund) and Company
© Bill Cooper

Koen Kessels gave an affectionate account of Tchaikovsky’s most symphonic of ballet scores, if a little ponderous in places. Ceremonial numbers had plenty of pomp, while the Garland Waltz in Act 2 was a symphony in orange and brown. While the six fairies were danced with grace and efficient attack, they conveyed little personality, although Yvette Knight’s Fairy of Modesty displayed super-fine bourrés in her variation. In the wedding celebration that is Act 3, Wright replaces the Jewel Fairies with two courtly couples, the Sapphire solo danced by the two men, not quite in perfect synchronisation. Puss-in-Boots and the White Cat went for precious little humour, alas, apart from the miaowing woodwinds in the Mayflower’s cavernous pit, and the Bluebird and Princess Florine pas de deux – one of the glories of the ballet which should be lapped up by eager young dancers – never quite caught fire. Golden glitter fluttered from the flies as Aurora wed her prince in the closing Apotheosis; perhaps more glitter will be evident in the performances as the run develops.