Inspired by the classic ballet The Sleeping Beauty, which is simultaneously in repertoire on the Royal Opera House’s main stage, this chamber work at the Linbury theatre diverges quite dramatically from the magical fairy tale of the Tchaikovsky/Petipa ballet.
The Canadian choreographer Hélène Blackburn centres her short work on adolescence, the time when children wake up to life and all its potential. Hence not just one princess fated to sleep for 100 years, but rather the awakening of many sleeping beauties, Les Beaux Dormants.
Adolescence is a troubled, restless time and so is Blackburn’s trademark choreography. She uses the basic language of classical ballet, but accelerates and distorts it just enough to create a different form of expression.
READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH HÉLÈNE BLACKBURN HERE
Les Beaux Dormants is set to an especially commissioned score by Blackburn’s regular collaborator Martin Tétreault, that borrows liberally from Tchaikovsky’s much-loved original, but speeds it up and introduces often thumping electric rhythms.
The set is made up of seven tall three-sided columns that start by forming a wall upon which, in a kind of prologue, a series of videoclips of children describing their idea of princes and princesses are projected.
Theirs are traditional ideas: the princes and princesses wear crowns; they live in a tower; the princesses, says one of the little girls, wear red lipstick.
Then the columns part making way for black-clad dancers that put on hurried appearances before going off again. A narrator appears and frantically mimes the barebones of the story, before speaking the plot out loud and leaving.
Les Beaux Dormants loosely follows the structure of the story. It’s divided into three parts: baptism, presentation to the court on the princess's 16th birthday, and marriage, symbolising entry into the adult world.
However, blink and you miss the transitions. There is no linear narrative in this work, but rather a series of expressionist tableaux that run into each other in a whirlwind of unceasing movement.
There are arresting ideas: the characters representing the two key fairies of the original are men, Valentin Thuet standing out as the wicked Carabosse with a black sequined tule skirt and just one pointe shoe. Elsewhere gender is further blurred, with both men and women strutting around in high heels, soft shoes and pointe shoes.
The key elements of the story are presented as fleeting moments; except for the prolonged kiss scene, where a number of couples, not just Aurora and her prince, kiss repeatedly and noisily.
Billed as a family show for ages 8+, it’s impossible to tell what children will make of a dense work such as Les Beaux Dormants. This adult, though, was dazzled by the dancers, stimulated by some of the ballet’s ideas and really quite baffled by parts of it.
|What||Les Beaux Dormants Review|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
21 Nov 19 – 24 Nov 19, 19:00 mats Fri 14:00, Sat & Sun 15:00 Dur.: 55 mins approx
|Website||Click here to book|