The Royal Ballet's revival of The Sleeping Beauty was always going to be a memorable one — this particular version was the Royal Opera House’s first post-war performance in 1946, so there's a lot to live up to.
Yet things do not always go to plan, and no-one could have predicted the drama that would befall the Covent Garden stalwart on one particular night.
With the spectacular Akane Takada in the title role, and Ryoichi Hirano as her suitor, the show is set to be an absolute cracker. But minutes before it began, Director of the Royal Ballet, Kevin O Hare comes on stage to announce that due to an injury, Hirano will not be dancing this evening: Alexander Campbell, another of the company’s Principals, will take his place. After all, the show must go on.
In Act I, we see Takada in all her glory as the grown-up Princess Aurora. The reputedly difficult, yet utterly beautiful Rose Adagio, where Aurora meets various princes in attempt to find her one true love, is performed as if it were completely effortless, and suddenly all the hype about the dancer makes sense.
After the second interval, however, there's a delay. Everyone is seated yet Act II is running 10 minutes behind schedule. Director Kevin O Hare graces the stage for the second time, and informs us that Takada was injured during the previous scene and cannot continue with the performance. Gasps circulate. The shock ripples through the audience. Suddenly, this real-life drama feels more tense than The Sleeping Beauty itself. We are assured, though, that another ballerina is on her way to dance the second and third Acts: the show must, once again, go on.
The theatre empties out as people head to the bar, or home (tickets will be partially refunded for those who choose not to stay). 45 minutes later, the warning bell sounds, to let us know that the ballet will recommence; that the (second) back up dancer of the evening has arrived. O'Hare (third appearance) lets us know that the ballerina who was come to save the day is Yasmine Naghdi, who danced the production’s opening night.
Act II is cut short, but we are treated to the full Act III. It's possibly the most colourful and upbeat section of the whole show, with a large number of fairy-tale characters. In all honesty, we are utterly spoiled with Naghdi; her flawless technique and beautiful lines are exquisite.
The Sleeping Beauty is not a short ballet: when all goes to schedule, we're talking a three-hour production. After the evening’s drama, it's gone 11pm when the Royal Opera House empties out. Yet it is a few hours of bliss: impeccable dancing, beautiful music, effective scenery and a fast-track ticket to the world of fairytales.
The Royal Ballet’s dancing is so flawless, that it is easy to forget that these dancers are real people, with all the real risks of injury. Yet how they deal with this, and their breath-taking performance despite the ordeal, just shows that no matter what happens, with this company, you are always in for a stunning show.
The Sleeping Beauty, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Tickets from £8, until 16 January 2020.