As a choreographer with his finger firmly on the zeitgeist, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty of 2012 should have come as no surprise. The last decade has been suffused with modernised fairytales, a genre of which Bourne is a pioneer, but also with pop culture’s obsession with vampires from Buffy to True Blood and Twilight. It was only a matter of time before Bourne bared his fangs.
The choreographer’s boat-rocking Nutcracker, set in an orphanage, and Swan Lake of male swans took those stories far beyond the pointe shoe brigade, the latter being the longest running dance show ever. But in Sleeping Beauty, Bourne faced an even greater challenge. The original, a sumptuous 19th century work by Marius Petipa, is widely regarded as a masterpiece of classical form.
The Christmas ballet with a bite
The essentials of the story are those we recognise - a princess in a castle with a bevy of protective fairies, the threat of a curse and the promise of salvation in romance a hundred years away.
So far, so fairytale, but Bourne incorporates some characteristic changes to, quite literally, vamp up the plot. There’s no Prince, but instead the handsome gamekeeper Leo, Aurora’s lover even before she falls asleep. Evil fairy/vampire Carabosse dies early and leaves a vengeful, but rather attractive son, adding a huge dollop of drama to the later acts.
Bourne matches this vampiric dynasty with Aurora’s own band of toothy guardians led by Count Lilac, the fanged equivalent of the Lilac Fairy, who manoeuvres the whole cast in his efforts to bring down Caradoc.
In a clever plot twist, Leo is carefully preserved for Aurora’s awakening with a bite from Count Lilac. Aurora is no pallid pink princess, but a gutsy wild child whose antics land more than a few courtiers in trouble.
The sun and blue sky that usually shine over Sleeping Beauty are swapped for a moon against inky black. Lez Brotherston’s designs drip old Victorian glamour, richly dyed in the colours of bruises and blood, with splashes of gold and brocade on lavish costumes which gleam under Paule Constable’s lighting.
The New Adventures dance company style
The New Adventures dancers are a sprightly bunch, recognised for their great energy and award-winning performances in particular from the likes of Dominic North and Liam Mower. But there’s an unlikely star in the puppet baby Aurora, with puppetry by Sarah Wright, who is as dynamic and realistic as the rest of the cast.
Look out for the sleepwalking scene, a gorgeously lyrical dance between a blindfolded Aurora and the figures of her dreams.
The lack of a live orchestra was an obstacle for many critics, and a couple found Bourne’s vampire ballet lacking in emotional depth. Sleeping Beauty is more symbol and allegory than dramatic narrative, and that’s no easy fare for musical theatre.
But if the enduring grandeur of Tchaikovsky’s fairytale is distant, pure panache will carry the day with most audience members, and there are few choreographers with as much of it.
For a London Christmas ballet the family will love, you’ll be onto a winner with Sleeping Beauty. Matthew Bourne tickets sell like sugar plums to a fairy though, so be sure to book ahead!
|What||Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty review,|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
01 Dec 15 – 24 Jan 16, 7pm on 3, 10 and 17 Dec and 6, 13, 20, 27 Jan. Matinees 2pm or 2.30pm
|Website||Click here to book via the Sadler's Wells website|