Director, Choreographer and Adapter: Matthew Bourne
Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Reviewer: Joseph Leigh
The name Matthew Bourne has been synonymous with exciting and unique ballet for many years, and audiences enter each performance space with a tangible sense of excitement and anticipation. From his eponymous Swan Lake to the more recent Tim Burton collaboration with Edward Scissorhands, Bourne has produced numerous original ballets that capture the imagination and shatter the mould.
Sleeping Beauty continues this trend; drawing inspiration from every version of the classic fairy tale that Bourne could find, this production effortlessly blends the classic and the modern into one spellbinding performance. By setting the piece’s opening in 1890, Bourne ensures that the earlier acts enjoy the splendour and opulence of the Victorian age as well as the Neo-Gothicism that characterised that period – giving just the right amount of classical grandeur to firmly establish the piece’s fairy tale setting. This original time setting also allows Princess Aurora to fall asleep on her name day in 1911 and awaken 100 years later in 2011 providing a stark contrast and new, dark dynamic.
Bourne also makes superb use of Tchaikovsky’s famous score, choreographing movement that captures the grace and skill of first-rate ballet while continuously delivering an engaging narrative. Where other ballets pause the story to allow a given duet or solo, Bourne integrates these elements perfectly into the plot line, ensuring that the audience is constantly gripped and never left wondering what is going on. Bourne has also included a host of comical moments, something that is typical of his work, from brief asides and interactions with props to the fairies’ comical efforts to entertain the young Princess.
The cast is simply superb – Ashley Shaw’s performance as Princess Aurora is not only technically excellent, but also delivers an astonishing level of cheeky and coquettish characterisation. This is enhanced by the chemistry between Shaw and Dominic North as Leo, the Royal Gamekeeper and destined true love of the Princess. Shaw and North breath real life into the relationship between the characters, capturing the highs and lows of a forbidden romance and later the anguish of separation and joy at being reunited.
Particular note must also go to Adam Maskell, whose portrayal of the dark fairy Carabosse as well as Carabosse’s vengeful son Caradoc is powerful and commanding. He brings a genuine force on to the stage, enabling the production to make full use of the emotional progression contained in its source material.
The staging and technical aspects of this show are no less spectacular. Bourne continues his tradition of powerful visual imagery and dramatic setting, with impressive palatial pieces flown in during swift and seamless scene changes. The stage also boasts two conveyors that work alongside the exquisite lighting design and use of hazers to create some of the more magical, ethereal moments of the piece. Add in the excellent puppetry work, and you are left with a technical masterpiece that could easily overshadow the performers or go wrong at the slightest mishap. Such is the level of skill delivered in this production that there is no risk of this occurring whatsoever, and the audience is able to enjoy this visual spectacle in complete comfort.
What really sets Bourne’s work apart from his contemporaries is the complete destruction of the fourth wall – a frankly astounding feat for a stage-only ballet given the absence of dialogue from the genre. The audience is completely drawn into the action, with the cast’s engaging performance creating the sense that we are all part of the journey.
This is a truly spectacular piece, and a must-see for anyone regardless of whether you are a fan of ballet or not.
Runs until 24 October 2015 then on tour | Image: Simon Annand