Monday, 10 December 2012

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty

What: Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty
Location: Sadler's Wells

I love Matthew Bourne ballets (see my old review of Cinderella). They never have a dull moment, and they are always highly entertaining. Earlier this year, I went to his Early Adventures show, and he went on stage afterwards to talk to the audience. It turns out that he attends *every* single show of his own work (if he can help it), so that he can study how audiences react to his choreography. Amazing! I can see why his ballets are such successes.

So anyway, I went to the sold out show of Sleeping Beauty at Sadler's Wells, and the ballet lives up to expectations. 

This is Sleeping Beauty with the original Tchaikovsky score, but with a big Bourne-style twist. There's the usual gender changes (male/female reversals) and the added contemporary humour, but there's a bigger transformation still. It might have been a big mistake for me to not read the full description of the show carefully: billed as Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance, it says
We meet our heroine, Aurora, at her Christening, when fairies and vampires fed the gothic imagination, before the story moves forward a century to the modern day.  
Since I didn't read this beforehand, you can imagine my confusion when the fairy godmother (or godfather rather) started biting the neck of one of the protagonists.

[Spoiler alert, although you can guess this easily ...]

I also didn't understand how the hero who you meet 100 years ago can still be alive 100 years later to save the sleeping princess (in the original ballet, the hero only appears 100 years later to save the day), but now it all makes sense if you realize that the hero turned into a vampire! I thought I caught a lot of different allusions, like Phantom of the Opera, or Grimms ... but maybe the allusions were really just to Bram Stoker and Anne Rice or Twilight films.

I am not entirely sure the idea of fairy vampires really work (vampires shouldn't really have wings!), but the dancers won me over: they were very captivating and evocative. Beautiful sets and costumes. I love Bourne's sense of humour ... there's a very funny use of puppetry to make young Aurora (well, baby) come alive.

The one thing I didn't really like is the set for the final scene, when the story fast forwards 100 years later to 'Last Night'. 'Last Night' is set in a nightclub that reminds you of really cheesy 80s music and awful flourescent lighting. Yuck. I can't stand it. However, it was in this scene that my absolute favourite bit of the Tchaikovsky score came on: if you have watched Disney's version of Sleeping Beauty, you would have heard the creepy tune as evil Maleficent's theme tune. If you've seen the original ballet (not the Bourne version), you would have known it as the Puss in Boots theme:

The music's absolutely creepy and it's fantastic! Bourne used it well by totally removing the 3rd act of the original ballet and using the music as part of the tense dungeon/nightclub scene (when the hero in disguise tries to rescue his heroine).

Also, can I just reiterate that it is a great move to remove the 3rd act? I've been to the Royal Ballet to see this (note above youtube clip), and the 1st act is when Aurora's young, 2nd act is when she's asleep and the prince comes and rescues her (without much obstacles, which is quite disappointing) and the 3rd act is ALL about their wedding and different fairytale characters dancing tributes for them. How utterly boring and strange to have the 'happily ever after' last a third of the performance.

Anyway, none of that in Bourne's ballet. He got a huge ovation at the end, and it really is well deserved. Go see it!

1 comment:

  1. Bourne blew it with Sleeping Beauty. The idea of vampire fairies, time travel, a homicidal vampire son, a strip joint night club, and dancing that grates with the romance and grandure of Tchaikovsky's original score and what you have is a confusing mess.

    The first act is very well done and the baby puppet is a brilliant idea. However, I get the sense that Bounre ran out of ideas so just gave us the worst of trashy chic-lit Twilight-esc drivel to feast on for the second half. That may explain why this has been popular with audiences, but if Bourne had given us soft-porn and 50 Shades of Grey, no doubt that too would have been popular with the masses too - it doesn't make it good though. This is the lowest common denominator effect.

    So far as the dancing is concerned, much of it is good. However, this is spoiled by some rather chunky, or one could even describe as fat, cast members. I certainly do not want to pay money to see unathletic fat people prance about stage, I can do that at any nightclub.