Skip to content

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance at New York City Center…

October 31, 2013
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance; Photo: Simon Annand

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance; Photo: Simon Annand

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance, which opened in London this December, is part of the choreographer’s Tchaikovsky trilogy. A re-envisioning of the great 19th Century romantic ballets; Swan Lake (1877),The Nutcracker (1892) which was originally entitled the The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, and Sleeping Beauty (1890).

These three ballets are noted in history for having been choreographed by the French-Russian ballet master Marius Petipa (1818-1910) known as the father of classical ballet. Even after 100 year, Petipa’s choreography is still alive and seen by ballet purist as sacrosanct. The pas de deux, steps and combinations from these ballets can be found in the syllabus of the world’s greatest ballet schools and conservatories, Bolshoi Ballet Academy, The Royal Ballet School and The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre.

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance; Photo: Simon Annand

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance; Photo: Simon Annand

For the award-winning British choreographer Matthew Bourne to tackle such a recognized and respected mainstay of classical dance was a risk, but what a risk it was. Mr. Bourne pulls us into a world of color and fantasy, a place where light battles dark.

His vision is a glitz and glam retelling, a Showtime/Starz type special, where the original story line is respected but not strictly adhered to. Mr. Bourne vision seems to follow the playbook of the Grimm’s Little Briar-Rose, which is closer to the story we know today, than that of Charles Perrault’s La Belle au bois dormant, which the original Sleeping Beauty is based upon.

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance; Photo: Simon Annand

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance; Photo: Simon Annand

Mr. Bourne’s new scenario introduces several characters not seen in Petipa’s famous ballet or the Grimm’s fairy tale. The Royal Family is headed by King Benedict (Edwin Ray) and Queen Eleanor (Daisy May Kemp). Princess Aurora (Hannah Vassallo) is a free-spirited girl on the verge of womanhood and the love of her life is not a prince but a commoner, Leo (Chris Trenfield), the royal gamekeeper. Count Lilac (Christopher Marney), the King of the Fairies, who is thought to be good battling evil is actually a vampire and the Dark Fairy, Carabosse (Adam Maskell), is portrayed not so much as the mean evil-doer but rather just misunderstood in her reasoning for the curse that puts the Princess into her slumber of 100-years. (When the King and Queen failed to be able to conceive a child they resorted to some questionable practices and enlisted the aid of Carabosse. Carabosse, who never felt she was truly appreciated nor properly acknowledged for her assistance in helping Royal couple conceive becomes rather perturbed when she discovers he has been left off the Royal guest list for the celebration of Baby Aurora’s birth.)

Another innovation by Mr. Bourne is Caradoc (also portrayed by Adam Maskell), the sinister but charming son of Carabosse, who turns out twisted and dark from the wronged done to his mother and is intent of revenge. It should be mentioned that Princess Aurora’s Fairy Godparents are rather ominously named Ardor, Hibernia, Autumnus, Feral and Tantrum. Just saying, not a very spiritual sounding bunch…..

Bourne’s version begins the same year in which Petipa premiered the original Sleeping Beauty, 1890. We see Baby Aurora, who is portrayed as by a puppet, immediately establishing she is a headstrong individual with her own mind. Pretending to have escaped the nursery by hiding and she sends the nanny and staff into a panicked search that has her (the puppet) crawling between people s legs and even climbing the drapes, much to the nanny’s chagrin.

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance; Photo: Mikah Smillie

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance; Photo: Mikah Smillie

Lez Brotherston, who designed both the set as well as the costumes, creates an atmosphere of opulence with rich brocade drapes that fall gracefully across the back of the stage. Through large French windows/doors you see a large full moon that highlights the entrance of the fairies as they have come to bless the sleeping infant princess. Each places a white feather in her crib as she sleeps. These are not the tutu fairies in pointe shoes found in the classical versions of the tale. Bur rather Goth and somewhat dark figures, both men and women who wearing the colors of the night.

The second act is set in 1911 amidst an Edwardian garden party. Everyone is in white, with the now twenty-one year old Aurora, still head strong and high-spirited, refusing to wear shoes. Aurora, performed by Hannah Vassallo, beautifully performs a solo in bare feet is a seeming nod to the free spirit of Isadora Duncan.

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance; Photo: Mikah Smillie

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance; Photo: Mikah Smillie

During the Rose Adagio with Leo, Ms. Vassallo portrays a passion this is infused by youth and the wonders of love. The sudden appearance of Caradoc is a surprise to all and it his gift of a black rose that when Aurora pricks her finger, puts her to sleep.  Caradoc, whisks her sleeping form away and places her under lock and key, which he guards for the next one hundred years.

Adam Maskell as Caradoc was masterful in his role as the sinister figure. He portrayed a character wrapped in mystery that seems intent on cruelty and sparing no-one who gets in his way. Your eye is drawn to him when he enters the stage, tall, dark and handsome, he is that irresistible bad-boy that your mother warned you against.

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance; Photo: Mikah Smillie

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance; Photo: Mikah Smillie

Act Three occurs a hundred years later, so now Mr. Bourne must find a way that Princess Aurora’s one true love, Leo, is still alive in handsome when it is time to awake the princess. As if from the pages of the script from HBO’s True Blood, where fairies and vampires are as common in the Louisiana country side as Gumbo, Count Lilac, the King of the Fairies just happens to moonlight as a vampire. Biting Leo’s neck, Aurora’s true love awakens to find himself all in back and with little fairy wings on his back.

Caradoc, knowing only true love can break the curse and awaken Aurora, lets or leads Leo to find her. When Leo awakens the Princess, he, Caradoc, swoops and nabs the Princess; he had been saving her for himself. For he plans to kill her and share the royal blood of the Princess with all his followers.

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance; Photo: Mikah Smillie

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance; Photo: Mikah Smillie

We are informed that the fourth act occurred Last Night. In what I am supposing was some sort of club, with lots of glass and magenta lighting, Princess Aurora is found in bed and is surrounded by ominous looking individuals.  It is only the bravery of Leo, who is fueled by his love of Aurora, that comes to her rescue. Leo turns Aurora into a vampire so they may live together forever. The last image of the couples is of wedded bliss,, both wearing black, with little fairy wins and complete with a baby fairy/vampire (puppet) and the rest is history.

Can you compare Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty with the classic Petipa version? No, but why would you, their apples and oranges. Where Petipa’s celebrate a classical tradition, is rich in history and is part of the fiber that makes up ballet, Bourne’s is a dance spectacular, filled with wonderful costumes, great sets and excellent dancing.

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is a wonderful and exciting adventure, colorful and vibrant. The canned music distracted from the whole, but only slightly.

Advertisements

From → Dance

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: