fri 31/10/2014

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

Big question: Hannah Vassallo as Matthew Bourne's modern-day sleeping beauty© Simon Annand/SWT

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)

bourne yentob imagineHere'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.

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