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?
Emotion and politics skilfully combine in Ratmansky's old-new ballet about the French Revolution
Unfeminist comedy in Jean-Christophe Maillot's Shakespeare ballet
A peerless Odette almost makes up for production's psychological shortcomings
The Russians are back, marking 60 years since they first took London by storm
Canny brand synergy encourages fans to keep Promming
Serious choreography and lush design make this Surrealist fairytale a visual treat
Visiting Aussies are engaging in lush production, but the plot's not all that
Superstar ballerina and new partner Sergei Polunin lack lustre in self-commissioned contemporary triple
Choreographer du jour Crystal Pite heads up two impressive Canadian cultural offerings
MacMillan revival in a different class to anodyne offerings from McGregor and Wheeldon
Dance version is loud and brash with all the horror and none of the mystery
On his retirement tour, Cuban superstar showcases the young, and proves he's still got it