sat 22/10/2016

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty, Sadler's Wells Theatre | Dance reviews, news & interviews

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty, Sadler's Wells Theatre

The third of his Tchaikovsky ballets exposes the choreographer's limits

Christopher Marney Count LilacAbove: Christopher Marney as Count Lilac - Bourne's rewrite of the Lilac Fairy

As usual, Bourne offers expert stagecraft and clever ideas. The baby Aurora of the opening is a cute manipulated puppet, crawling around her darkling 1890 palace, getting under the flunkeys’ feet. She is much missed when she grows up to be 21 in the next scene, and is played by Hannah Vassallo as a goofy girl whom we first see waggling her legs in the air and showing us her bloomers.

A whole gaggle of references and campy recharacterisations jostle about as Bourne tries to give his rewrite frissons of Dracula and Twilight - Christopher Marney makes a suave Count Lilac but it seems to be intended that we’re more interested in Dominic North’s “prince” figure, a dull gamekeeper who for obscure reasons gets bitten by Count Lilac and then time-travels around with a neat little pair of wings on his back. One superb scene stands out in the inconsequentiality: where Carabosse (the imposing Ben Bunce) enacts with a masked Aurora the cursed fate lying ahead, and Bourne adds some urgent visionary drive to his pantomimic style of movement to generate a taut mini-thriller.

Nothing much elsewhere is as sexy, probably because there is no scope for gay duets, in which Bourne has always been far more evocative than in boy-girl ones - the Rose Adagio music, where Aurora’s romantic readiness should reach ecstatic, awesome heights, just has two dopey youngsters fooling about like kittens playing. Without symbolic coherence, or compelling stage possession, this Aurora is a bit of a nobody.

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I remember several years ago

I remember several years ago that Clement Crisp posed a question. Basically, he asked what will Mr. Bourne do when he runs out of ballet scores? Now that he's completed Tchaikovsky's ballet trilogy, in addition to Prokofiev's "Cinderella," and his version of "La Sylphide," that question still hasn't been answered. I've always thought that his "Swan Lake" and "Cinderella," were exceptional. However, this ballet, and this score aren't to be trifled with. I thought that Nacho Duato's version of "Sleeping Beauty" for St. Petersburg's Mikhailovsky Ballet, (with stunningly unimaginative modern dance choreography), was bad enough, but at least it beautifully designed and costumed. However this takes the cake for audacity. Moreover, Tchaikovsky's music, "... the greatest score ever written for ballet," per George Balanchine, is subjected to a conceptualization and a heavy weight that it was never meant to bear. Choreographers such as Mr. Bourne and Mr. Duato should create their own masterpieces and leave others' masterpieces alone. MO.

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