Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bourne's Beauty

Quite a few months ago I went with Owen to have my senses well and truly shaken at the latest Matthew Bourne production SLEEPING BEAUTY.

Having missed it at Sadler's Wells we caught up with it on it's subsequent tour at Wimbledon.  How good that New Adventures, after playing in a major London venue for a month and a half, still include a London date on their tour.

Despite the best efforts of the shambolic Wimbledon Theatre staff - obviously conditioned to dealing with half-empty houses for the tribute act tat that is their usual fare but go into utter meltdown when faced with a sold out show - as well as the shockingly poor audience I was in the middle of, I have retained enough of a memory of the show to blog for you, Constant Reader.

My only experience of the SLEEPING BEAUTY ballet was being taken by my school to a English National Ballet production back in the day.  Indeed my only real memory of it was the teacher's long and laborious explanation of why we had to be vigilant for the 'Rose Adagio' danced by Princess Aurora in Act 1.  In the interval she then quizzed us on it but I guess I had nodded off or was looking at something else.

2012 saw the 25th anniversary of New Adventures and with SLEEPING BEAUTY Bourne completes his Tchaikovsky trilogy after his productions of NUTCRACKER! and SWAN LAKE which have both done so much to bring ballet to a wider audience.  His version of SLEEPING BEAUTY ditches Petipa's traditional tale and gives us a darkly romantic tale of Aurora, her love for the palace gardener Leo and the other-worldly creatures who alter their destiny.

Bourne retains the basic storyline but sets the start of the story in 1890, the year that SLEEPING BEAUTY premiered.  A childless King and Queen, having sought the help of the dark fairy Carabosse to have a baby, forget to invite her to their daughter's christening.  Carabosse appears and casts the famous spell that will see the Princess Aurora die at the age of 21 by pricking her finger. 

However The Lilac Fairy and his rag-tag retinue of fairies called Feral, Tantrum etc. arrive and mollify the spell so Aurora will not die but fall asleep for 100 years.  This scene introduced us not only to Liam Mower's wonderfully characterised Lilac Fairy but to Bourne's ingenious idea of having the baby Princess represented by a puppet who garnered laughs as she scampered around the stage and even up the curtains.

Flash forward to 1911 and Aurora's Edwardian 21st birthday party which she steals away from to spend time with Leo the gardener who loves her.  However a tall dark stranger appears who turns out to be Caradoc, the vengeful son of the now-dead Carabosse.  He implements his mother's plan and Aurora falls into a dead sleep as does the whole court.
But here Bourne encountered the problem of the story's insurmountable plot flaw - if Aurora has to sleep for 100 years, what then of Leo?  Here he has introduced a great zeitgeist idea of his own and the First Act ends with The Lilac Fairy biting Leo's neck turning him into an ageless vampire.  That's got the teenage girl audience sewn up!  This act introduced us to Hannah Vassallo's spirited and delightful Aurora, Bourne regulars Dominic North as Leo and Adam Maskell as the evil Caradoc (he had also played Carabosse).
The second act takes place in 2011 as Leo enters the palace's moonlit gardens to awaken Aurora with true love's kiss but he is foiled by the nasty Caradoc again who awakens Aurora instead to become his prisoner bride.  Leo and The Lilac Fairy then have to rescue Aurora from her fate worth than death and the climactic fight to the death between Leo and Caradoc takes place in the moody surroundings of a black and red nightclub which is the haunt of the evil retinue of Caradoc. 
Will Leo triumph?  Well, this IS a fairy tale... and there was also a delightful surprise at the end of the production which guaranteed it a massive round of applause.
I thoroughly enjoyed the sheer Gothic romanticism of Bourne's reimagining, his always entertaining choreography, the excellent performances of his lead dancers and tireless ensemble, and Les Brotherston's marvellous set design and costumes.  I particularly liked the punk elegance of The Lilac Fairy and his retinue with their frock coats and distressed layers of lace and silk.  He thoroughly deserved his Olivier award nomination.  Paule Constable's lighting design also contributed towards the success of the mis en scène.

If I did have a tiny complaint it's that not enough time is spent establishing Aurora and Leo's love story.  They had one lengthy pas de deux but that was all, it all felt a bit rushed and just assumed.  This is no reflection on the dancer's who were a delight to watch but on the sometimes thin quality of Bourne's scenarios.  Oddly enough it is usually felt most in establishing the love between his principal romantic couples.
This small quibble aside, I hope there will be another opportunity to see this wonderful addition to Bourne's canon of work again in the not too distant future.  I certainly wouldn't want to have to wait 100 years.

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