The appetite for dance seems to be enjoying something of a revival among UK theatre goers, probably because of the popularity of TV shows like Strictly Come Dancing and So You Think You Can Dance. Nevertheless, the tights and tutus image of classical ballet can be a little off-putting for some of us newbies.
Thank goodness, then, for choreographers with the vision and wit to re-imagine old-school ballets for a modern audience. Matthew Bourne falls into this camp and is widely credited with making ballet more accessible. Working with his dance company, New Adventures, Bourne’s re-interpretation of traditional ballet The Sleeping Beauty marks the long-awaited completion of his trilogy inspired by the work of Tchaikovsky.
New Adventures Sleeping Beauty made its London debut at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in 2012 and is now out on tour. We went to the Thursday afternoon performance at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow. The venue was positively heaving, unusual for a mid-week matinée slot and testament that Bourne’s brand of ballet can definitely put bums of all shapes and sizes on seats.
Bourne states that he started the choreographic process for Sleeping Beauty by revisiting previous versions of the story, of which there are many, some Grimm, some not so. He concluded that a major plot failing was the lack of narrative tension once Aurora is awoken by her prince: their romance seems unconvincing unless you’re willing to place absolute faith in love at first sight. To get around this stumbling block, Bourne borrows from the current mania for vampire lore. So, without giving too much away, the Lilac Fairy becomes Count Lilac and one small bite changes the whole dynamic of the love story.
As befits any good fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty begins with the immortal words “Once upon a time…” The action then spans a period of 121 years, with scenes set in 1890, 1911 and 2011. The choreography and costume design both tip a nod to the popular dance styles and fashion of each era. The use of jeans and hoodies for the modern-day scenes certainly couldn’t be further removed from conventional ballet attire. Not a tutu in sight.
My personal feeling about ballet is that the intricacies of the plot are probably less important than the underlying themes explored. As a result, I no longer tie myself up in knots trying to figure out every detail of what’s going on but instead just let the music and choreography work their magic. Sleeping Beauty is clearly a classic tale of good versus evil. But it also represents a rite of passage and the character of Aurora is central to this premise. Bourne’s Aurora is portrayed as a spirited force of nature, a wild child stifled by convention, prone to running barefoot through the woods. Rather than performing precise stylised steps on pointe, she dances in a free, naturalistic style reminiscent of Isadora Duncan. No wonder then that Aurora has so easily made the transition from the human world to the sphere of fairies and vampires by the time we reach “…and they lived happily ever after.”
The dancer who played the part of Aurora was truly excellent, as were Count Lilac and the baddie, Caradoc. However, a special mention must also go to the infant Aurora, represented in this production by a puppet so lifelike that I found it downright sinister.
Sleeping Beauty marks another step in my personal new adventure into the world of ballet. I already have two parts of Bourne’s Tchaikovsky trinity in the bag. Just Swan Lake to go…