Director &Choreographer: Matthew Bourne
Reviewer: Beverley Haigh
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty completes his reworking of the trio of Tchaikovsky’s well-loved ballets. After reinventing and making totally his own Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake with his all-male corps de ballet of swans, which followed his updated version of Nutcracker!, Bourne finally returned to Sleeping Beauty in order to turn his creative genius hand to the well-loved fairytale and classical ballet.
Fortuitously for Bourne adapting the work in 2011, working backwards to Aurora’s coming of age in 1911, he discovered it would make her year of birth 1890, the very year Tchaikovsky first performed his original ballet of Sleeping Beauty. The gothic style Bourne adopts in this golden age of fairies and vampires, alongside providing scope for some beautiful setting and dramatisation, conveniently sidesteps the problems of continuing the story 100 years later, when Aurora wakes from her curse.
The highlight of the first act is the arrival of the fairies bequeathing their gifts to the intrigued puppet baby. In their dishevelled tutus and gothic beauty, they glide onto the stage on what has to be the most inventive use of a travelator ever. They descend upon the baby like a swarm of gothic horror nymphs, their movements exaggerated and captivating, enhanced greatly by Paule Constable’s ethereal lighting and the hazy smoke effects. Immediately the tone for the piece is set.
The arrival of Carabosse (Liam Mower) interrupts the celebrations as she vows to settle her grievance with the Royal Family. Adding a tasteful element of drag, Mower later morphs into Carabosse’s son Caradoc, who endures his mother’s battle with a vengeance, thus avoiding side-lining of the character and providing a continuation of the central battle of good versus evil.
The characterisation of the protagonists is admirable: Ashley Shaw’s Aurora playful and carefree, slightly rebellious at times as opposed to the bland and obedient character in more traditional versions. Her relationship with the lowly Royal Gamekeeper, Leo played by Dominic North is sensitively played, evoking a genuine empathy from the audience. The jovial nature of both characters sees the inclusion of some beautiful pas de deux.
The dance itself is of lesser importance, merely one element that enhances the overall magic and otherworldliness in Matthew Bourne’s magical fairy-tale fantasy. There are no stand-alone dance moments, the strength is the piece in its entirety, supported by the stunning visuals of Lez Brotherston’s elaborate set and the attention to detail – vampires wings appearing at opportune places (including the hedges and even the footlights).
Remaining mostly faithful to the original narrative (with the exception of a few embellishments to incorporate the vampires) the second act sees Leo desperately searching for his love. The Moulin-Rouge inspired scenes provide a showstopping finale, seeing the demise of Caradoc in a Dracula meets Burlesque style standoff.
Thankfully, we are also spared the usual overly-long third act of the traditional Sleeping Beauty wedding, which sees the introduction of numerous fairy-tale characters. Here, the happy ending results in the newlyweds and their baby all in receipt of their (vampire) wings.
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is an excellent introduction to ballet: it is a storytelling piece focussed on the narrative and style rather than the conformities of formal dance. Bourne has created a modern masterpiece and that is why he is one of the most prodigious and talented figures in theatre today.
Runs until 27th February 2016 | Image: Johan Persson