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Unsettlingly faithful to the spirit of Schiele: Staging Schiele reviewed

Plus: Francesca Hayward and Marcelino Sambé are the stars of Royal Ballet's Sleeping Beauty

16 November 2019

9:00 AM

16 November 2019

9:00 AM

Staging Schiele by Shobana Jeyasingh Dance

Queen Elizabeth Hall

The Sleeping Beauty

Royal Opera House, in rep until 16 January

‘Come up and see my Schieles.’ Those were the words that ended a friend’s fledgling relationship with an art collector. One evening looking at Egon Schiele’s skinny naked scarecrows was enough. Staging Schiele, a one-act dance piece by choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh, is unsettlingly faithful to the spirit of Schiele’s art. If the skin creeps, if the stalls recoil, then the dancers — one man and three women — have done their job.

The opening solo is danced by Dane Hurst stripped to his pants in a powerful display of athletic narcissism. His only partner is a small hand mirror at which he lunges and thrusts. Hurst sprawls and crawls and scratches and writhes and bends his body into double-jointed spider shapes. He is joined by a trio of female dancers — Catarina Carvalho, Sunbee Han and Estela Merlos — in velvet bralets and high-waisted knickers. They are transfixingly nasty. The invitation ‘Come to the cabaret’ has rarely held such menace. Together they form a cadaverous chorus line, all rib cages, cats’ eyes and hostile sexuality. The line between scrawnily sinister and strip show is narrow and at times this tips into Pussycat Doll provocation. It’s the splits that do it.

Composer Orlando Gough offers a soundtrack of mouthwash gargles and fragments of Schiele’s poetry. Ich bin this and ich bin that. But it’s all about what you see, not what you hear. In tableau after tableau, Schiele’s pained, pinched, impertinent figures are brought feverishly, disturbingly to life.


After the cigarettes and closed rooms of Staging Schiele, the Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty is milk and honey. Oliver Messel’s sets and costumes, first created in 1946, and many times revived and revised since, are a great dressing-up box of art history’s greatest hits. Watteau here, Rubens there, Van Dyck ruffs, Gentile da Fabriano kings. For the court: pomp and ermine pompoms. For the fairies: infinite pastel and quivering tutus. The mood is a Covent Garden fête galante: colonnades, cherubs and a Claude Lorrain backcloth.

Yasmine Naghdi’s Princess Aurora was enchanting. At her coming-out ball she was mischief and sweetness, dancing with zabaglione lightness. I held my breath through the Rose Adagio. Will she, won’t she wobble? There was the merest, momentary, blink-and-you’d-miss-it tremble. Otherwise: immaculate. When Aurora pricks her finger on Carabosse’s spindle, you feel the poison coursing through every feverish flutter of movement.

Act II was curiously, well, sleepy. I know the pas de deux between Aurora and Prince Florimund (Matthew Ball) is supposed to be half waking, half dreaming, but I did find myself dozing off, if not for 100 years, then certainly for a few bars. Whatever gingering happened in the pause between Acts II and III, it did the trick. Naghdi and Ball — what took you so long? — entered on extravagant form. Every lift lifted the spirits, every smile invited another. Theirs is an increasingly assured partnership. If they don’t quite make you believe in true love, then absolute trust is the next best thing. Ball’s superlative solo was a proper wahey! moment.

Fumi Kaneko brought otherworldly grace, poise and musicality to the Lilac Fairy. Anna Rose O’Sullivan, as the Fairy of the Song Bird, and later as one of Florestan’s pretty sisters, outshone all others. She danced with keepy-uppy quickness. She was flitting, impish, delightful. Later this month she makes her debut as Aurora. As Princess Florine and the Bluebird, Francesca Hayward and Marcelino Sambé were spellbinding: she all soaring gorgeousness; he a pillar of supple strength. Hayward is a mistress of transformation. She has a gift for creatureliness. Never for a moment do you doubt that she is a slinking water nymph, a humming bird. That’s magic — no fairy needed.


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