The Royal Opera House’s tall facade stands unimposing amongst the narrow bustling streets of Covent Garden. It seems almost to blend in with the restaurants and shops around it, which is why it is so surprising when you walk through the revolving doorway into a cool, serene lobby, and then into the gilded theater surrounded by 2,256 reverently hushed people and leave those streets, and real life, behind.
I went to see The Sleeping Beauty in the Royal Opera House, a three-hour ballet comprised of four parts: a prologue and three acts, which is playing until mid-April. When I somewhat naïvely found out that the entire ballet has no dialogue and was three hours long, I was worried that I would be bored and confused the whole time.
I wasn’t disappointed in my confusion. What was supposed to be a cohesive story looked to me like an endless swirl of shimmery costumes, dancing, and elaborate set changes that signaled absolutely no narrative to me. However, those elements in it as themselves were captivating.
It hurt my feet to even just watch the entire performance, especially during Act I when the main character, Aurora (identified as such only by the program), stands unsupported with one leg in the air and the other en pointe for five minutes or so, waiting for different characters to spin her around. This sequence, called the “Rose Adagio”, is one of the most difficult moves in all of ballet. As you watch this, it is evident that an incredible amount of strength, endurance, and precision is present, not only in the “Rose Adagio” but in every single move the ballerinas make. Throughout the performance, an incredible attention to detail and precision hallmarks its success.
It is not just the beautiful dancing that defines the ballet, but also the score, which serves almost as the narrative backdrop to the ballet. Composed by Tchaikovsky, the score has won critical renown and might even be vaguely familiar for the parts of it that Disney borrowed for their own version of The Sleeping Beauty. Tchaikovsky was one of the first Russian conductors to gain international respect and recognition, and his work in The Sleeping Beauty plays no small part in that.
The fact that there are two intermissions, both 20 minutes, helps to dissipate any boredom as well. As the viewers make their way down to the Paul Hamlyn Hall – a large iron and glass structure which used to be Covent Garden’s floral market, but now functions as the main pavillion for the Opera House – they can buy programs or a selection of different ice cream flavors, on each floor. The pavillion itself is impressive, flooded with natural light and stocked with ample food and drinks.
Walking through the building, there is a tangible excitement surrounding the subject of the ballet itself. In 1946, The Sleeping Beauty was the first ballet to be performed after the opera house closed down for World War II. Since then, it has been revived, and stands as a symbol of the resilience and power of ballet in the face of distress.