The Royal Ballet's "Sleeping Beauty" is an enchanting production by Anthony Dowell at The Orange County Performing Arts Center. The curtain rises on a grand ball room with marble columns that are tilted at an angle to give the illusion of looking up to the top of the high rotunda. The Fairies and their Attendants enter from a great, winding stairway and elegantly dance down the stairs. A big wooden banquet table juts out from the back and is a focal point for much of the action of The Prologue. Especially powerful is the entrance of Carabosse in a rickshaw-like cart drawn by his Attendants from under the table, as the sky grows dark and lightening flashes. Anthony Dowell is a hideous Carabosse and as he presents the spindle that Aurora will prick her finger on, the Fairies' Attendants busily work their mischief around the table in the background. They drink the drinks, fool with the candles, and generally disrupt the proceedings.

For Act 1 the set is reconfigured to create an effect like an open air garden enclosed by the columns and rotunda with a big wrought-iron gate enclosing it. This opens so that the action flows freely. The Garland Dance is enthralling with about fifteen dancers and courtiers moving with absolute precision in layers as a single unit. Darcey Bussell's Aurora is riveting as she greets the four suitor Princes. She's on pointe with the other leg extended. She slowly twirls and swoops down low and back up to greet the next of the four suitors. The routine lasts for two to three minutes and is done twice, with the ballerina on pointe with the other leg extended for the entirety. Even when she pricks her finger she seems weightless as she's carried off-stage. After Carabosse is revealed, he moves to the staircase, disappears in a cloud of smoke, and when it clears, The Lilac Fairy is standing there to turn death to sleep.

Act 2 takes place 100 years later and the costumes are updated from the elegance of the late 18thcentury to the late 19th or early 20th century. The characters enter in a variety of sleighs, and when Aurora appears in the vision she's high in the air at the back of the stage. When she and Florimund dance, her legs are in constant motion, but her torso barely moves. Darcey Bussell flows like a river and becomes the visual incarnation of the music. What makes it so amazing is that she makes it look like she's merely walking across the room!

In Act 3 the costumes revert back to the beginning. We have high-backed chairs placed on the staircase for the King, Queen, and the Court to sit and observe the Wedding festivities. There is a glowing sun around the opening in the backdrop from which the fairy tale characters enter. Deborah Bull and WilliamTrevitt as Princess Florine and the Bluebird are especially noteworthy, as are Michelle Davis and Gary Avis as Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. He has this hideously leering head and throws Red Riding Hood over his shoulder, and carries her kicking off stage. The Grand Pas de Deux is absolutely scintillating. Stuart Cassidy as Florimund leaps and clicks his thighs three times before he lands. Darcey leaps kicking one leg out straight, then splits, then repeats, flying all around the stage. The ballerina's sheer athleticism and discipline make her appear as the personification of elegance and grace.

Conductor Valeri Ovsianikov led The Pacific Symphony Orchestra in this tremendous performance of Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" by The Royal Ballet at The Orange County Performing Arts Center.

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