Former artistic director Gary Harris has gone all out with his designs for this ambitious new production of the most romantic of all the fairytale ballets, with its feast of virtuoso dance.

Huge sets create a soaring vertical space, courtiers' costumes are lush and velvety in a jewel box of medieval colour, the five pastel fairies are a gauzy dream, woodland nymphs flitter through the forest, and handsome princes abound.

A spectacular Weta Workshop dragon breathes fire and fury in its defence of Carabosse, the wicked Black Fairy. Guest artist Stella Abrera, a soloist with American Ballet Theatre where the RNZB's new artistic director Ethan Stiefel was a principal dancer, is an exquisite Princess Aurora on Auckland's opening night, with spell-binding perfection of technique.

She is well matched by the bravura specialist, Sergio Torrado, as Prince Desire in the first cast. Spanish-born Torrado is a new addition to the company ranks, and a former principal with Pennsylvania Ballet.


But all is not well with this Sleeping Beauty. The vital elements are there for a spectacular performance, but the magic never quite ignites.

For all her beauty, talent and artistic accomplishment, Abrera fails to capture the emotional spirit of a 16-year-old Aurora and Torrado's prince seems more puffed up with muscular skill than bewitched. It makes for a lukewarm conjugation.

However, in contrast Beauty, the Blue Fairy (Ginny Gan), Grace, the Orange Fairy (Antonia Hewitt), Song, the Yellow Fairy (Adriana Harper), and Witt, the Green Fairy (a vivacious Lucy Green) express their namesake qualities with sure-footed, gorgeous lightness. Klytie Campbell does well as the evil Carabosse and Brendan Bradshaw and Jacob Chown stand out from the fine ranks of cavaliers, other princes and Prince Desire's friends.

Shannon Dawson and Lucy Balfour, as the feline Catabutte and Lady Florine kitted out to the hilt, again by Weta Workshop, provide welcome dashes of humour as well as some fine character dancing.

But it's left to Abigail Boyle, the Lilac Fairy, beautifully embodying her trait of Wisdom, to bring any emotional satisfaction to this rendering of the classic tale. And she does so with a star-quality blend of grace, clarity and a subtle power.

What: The Sleeping Beauty, with the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

Where: Civic Theatre.

When: Until December 4.