Matthew Bourne is a name that has become closely intertwined with the Christmas season at Sadler’s Wells. His ballets are accessible, driven by strong narrative force, utterly compelling to watch and absolutely stunning. A New Adventures/Matthew Bourne production will have all the splendour of a traditional ballet with added gut and contemporaneity.
This production of Sleeping Beauty completes Bourne’s treatment of Tchaikovsky’s trilogy of ballet masterworks. His Nutcracker and Swan Lake have been hugely popular whilst reinventing the traditional works at the same time. Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty spans the time period from 1890 (the year of the ballet’s first performance) to the present day, incorporating a lengthy 100 year sleep into the interval and taking us from early 20th Century manners to a court ruled over be vampires and fairies in a seedy, underground, contemporary twist on the fairytale.
In the programme I read that Bourne introduced the vampire element as a contemporary take on fairytale, but also as a plot device. He describes the use of this vampiric element as ‘very subtle’ and I think it was possibly just a little too subtle as it seemed to confuse a number of audience members. It is, however, a very fun and quirky addition and fits right in with the production’s blend of the dark and the lighthearted.
The choreography and overall design of the darker sections, where the prince figure goes searching for Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) in the land of the sleepwalkers were some of my favourite elements of the show, and I would have liked to see this interesting style taken slightly further – the darker elements of the production highlighted. However, because this is a Christmas show I understand that the more macabre preferences of audience members such as myself can’t be catered for all the time. Overall Bourne seems to have perfectly blended the very dark side we often neglect in traditional fairytales, with the lighter Disney side that we all know and love.
Bourne has said that in the initial fairytale the lack of any strong love story to connect to makes the narrative quite challenging. This addition of a strong love story element prior to the 100 year sleep is something that Walt Disney introduced and that made the tale instantly more accessible to audiences. The strengthening of this element worked perfectly in this ballet, and the pas-de-deuxs between the couple remain my favourite sequences in the production. I maintain that dance can capture the spirit of love and passion for another person better than anything else. Words, sometimes, are inadequate when compared to the way our bodies can speak.
Lez Brotherston has done a spellbinding job with set and costumes for the production, considering the huge timespan he had to work with and the fantasy elements. Dresses move as if part of the dancer’s bodies and the set is as beautiful as the dance sequences and the music. Lighting by Paule Constable is also wonderful, and the cast (small for a ballet) are a fantastically tight ensemble. All of this confirms that Matthew Bourne is not just a choreographer but a director, an auteur even, considering all elements of his productions neglecting absolutely nothing. Whenever I see work by this company the minute choreography of every single onstage gesture always stands out, and this was noticeable from the very opening of this production.
Sleeping Beauty is stunning; it’s magical, gothic, intriguing and an absolute delight to watch. It’s at Sadler’s Wells until January 26th and I’d highly recommend it – an excellent start to 2013s theatre viewing.