Imagine: A Beauty is Born, BBC One | Dance reviews, news & interviews
Imagine: A Beauty is Born, BBC One
Alan Yentob sleepwalks uninterestedly through a documentary about choreographer Matthew Bourne
They should use the whole Yeats line: "A terrible beauty is born". The programme, A Beauty is Born, being terrible, I mean, rather than the Beauty, which is Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty, his latest dance work, which isn't terrible at all, just a mite disappointing. And it strives a great deal higher and with more aim to stimulate than Alan Yentob did in this stock documentary from the BBC's flagship arts strand. Is Yentob the most uninterested specialist presenter on TV?
With that morose stare, he's a terrible advert for arts-loving for a start, leaving a chill as he wanders among the efforts of artists with his Imagine team, turning the magical spark of imagination into ash like the Fairy Jobsworth. Yentob seems not very interested in dance, and certainly he didn't muster much interest here in explaining the imagining, the building up of instincts and memories, visions and risky climbs into the head and heart - all the things a documentary about a new alternative Sleeping Beauty production was crying out for. (Yentob pictured below right with Bourne)
Here's a challenge, after all - to be as popular as Bourne is, how much do you compromise with gaining that popularity? The genial Bourne, having applied emotional inventiveness and witty humour twice before to classical ballets Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, was attempting to discover something equally original on its own counts in a landmark ballet score that comes with the most dauntingly complete theatrical packaging in all dance history. Swan Lake and The Nutcracker both have glaring holes in their original creative processes, into which Bourne had stepped with cheek and refreshing courage. But here - how do you de-imagine a total masterwork, and re-imagine it, hoping to attain just as much emotional strength?
Not questions Yentob put in the film, which was a "Let's make a ballet" backstage story that fell back heavily on a herogram for Bourne's 25 years of popularity without analysing his dialogue with today's public. Greasepaint and costumes are the stalwarts of dance-show TV; the corsets and wigs, the wiry bodies in close-up, sound design, lighting, the mysteries of touring with travelators, the fascination of manipulating five baby puppets, as well as the maddening indecisiveness of Bourne's choreographic process, all of this was timelessly diverting.
And his Sleeping Beauty is camera-friendly, an extremely beautiful show with florid time leaps and soft-gothic fantasy costuming, designed by Lez Brotherston, that made a welcome visual counterbalance to the less rewarding "creative" rehearsal scenes. Unlike, say, in classical ballet or with the radical computer-choreographer Merce Cunningham, there is not a framework of movement language or vocabulary to appreciate while it’s being manipulated. The dancers are less "dancers" than dancing actors. Bourne, who concedes he’s more interested in creating the characters than the dance steps, works out his choreography in a muzzy, indistinct way.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Exile-themed circus show is rather too serious
Too much sugar in Ashton double bill
Spectacular dance fireworks make this hoariest and silliest of Russian classics worth seeing
Hypnotic exploration of Indian myth from a female perspective
A royal gem in the Linbury Studio Theatre
Christopher Hampson's fairytale fills the seasonal family ballet slot nicely
Highlights of the last calendar year
Likeable dancers deliver Christmas cheer despite the mice
Wacky and delightful dance theatre adaptation of classic fairytale
A vampiric twist on the Tchaikovsky ballet makes for an evening of mixed success
The ballet star takes his final bow in a self-curated gala that raises the roof
Faultless production works its magic afresh