SLEEPING BEAUTY – New Wimbledon Theatre, London.
Matthew Bourne and his company New Adventures have reinvented the dainty tutu-heavy ballet that is Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty, and turned it into a glamorous, Gothic adventure. New plot lines are added and characters are re-imagined. From sumptuous sets to hilarious puppetry, there’s plenty to enjoy here.
For someone used to restrained, fiercely precise classical ballet, the freedom with which Sleeping Beauty’s dancers move can take a little getting used to. But this freedom of movement brings with it a wealth of expression. The fairies turn and leap with the excitement of flamenco dancers, and the vampiric companions of villain Caradoc flaunt sensuality and cult-like wildness.
Throughout the performance there’s an element of staccato to the choreography. Dramatic moments in the music are matched with sharp changes of direction or position. Such a technique could easily end up feeling clichéd, but it works brilliantly. The effect punctuates the narrative and adds tension, it is also used to great comic effect in the opening scene. Admittedly, the choreography isn’t always as dazzling or impactful as Tchaikovsky’s score (in the original ballet there’s choreography to make you gasp). But, the focus of this reworking is not virtuoso performances – it’s the story, which has been given an exciting reboot.
There’s a new villain to help keep the good-verses-evil battle in play right until the end. Caradoc, the son of wicked fairy Carabosse, whose determination to avenge his mother is the driving force of the story, is a great new addition. Charismatically portrayed by Adam Maskell (who also does an excellent job in the role of Carabosse), Caradoc is simultaneously charming and dangerous – as all the best fairy-tale villains are.
The lilac fairy, originally Aurora’s ‘fairy godmother’, is re-imagined as Count Lilac (performed by Liam Mower). Count Lilac’s name should be a clue that Bourne’s fairies are not all pink wings and fairy dust – they’ve got a pleasing sinister edge. Count Lilac’s solo pieces are some of the show’s highlights, full of elegant turns in attitude and effortless grand jetés.
Princess Aurora is also reinvented. No longer helpless and insipid – Aurora is bright and confident, with her own ideas about what she wants to do and who she wants to be. Aurora (Ashley Shaw) and her boyfriend Leo (Dominic North) dance a beautiful pas de deux to the Rose Adagio. With playful turns, travelling lifts and two wonderfully expressive dancers, the sheer joyfulness of new-found love fills the auditorium. If the original Sleeping Beauty was about a woman ‘coming of age’ – or rather ‘becoming old enough to be married off’ – Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is about a young couple fighting to just be themselves. A heart-warming story entirely suited to a contemporary audience.
The 100 year time-span of the story also presents designer Lez Brotherston some exciting opportunities. Tchaikovsky’s beautiful sweeping waltzes are matched with a graceful Edwardian setting, and the darker sections of the later acts are paired with corp de ballet pieces set in a neon-lit underground party, with guests dressed in red velvet and leather. It all works surprisingly well.
Occasionally, the dancing is a tad frenetic – there’s almost too much movement to enjoy the dancer’s fabulous costumes and dramatic lines – but overall Sleeping Beauty is a glorious show.
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By Andrea White