Theater review: Sleeping Beauty

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Completing his trio of classic Tchaikovsky ballets, Matthew Bourne has taken a perfectly enchanting fairytale and turned it into a perfectly nice Gothic fantasy - with just a pinch of horror that makes Sleeping Beauty accord frightfully well with today's saccharine taste for vampires. Directing and choreographing his new scenario, Bourne slashes about an hour from the original score, tightening the drama and allowing for occasional outbreaks of comedy. He also moves the action out of a vague medieval antiquity, stretching it across a timeline that begins in 1890 (the date of the ballet's original premiere), with the famed 100-year sleep beginning in 1911 and Princess Aurora's wedding occurring ... last night!

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Our first hint of Bourne's impish intent comes when the newborn babe is presented as a crawling puppet with a penchant for climbing the velvet draperies. That puppet soon becomes established downstage in an open cradle as Count Lilac and his fairies dance and glide, discreetly aided by a conveyor belt, across a humongous moon to present the newborn with blessings and gifts in her spacious bedchamber. Of course, the rainbow sparkle of these benedictions make for a perfect prelude for the ensuing entrance by the outraged dark fairy Carabosse, cruelly snubbed by King Benedict and Queen Eleanor after granting the barren couple's wish for a child.

Something dire was going to happen to Princess Aurora via a foreboding gray rose as the saturnine Tom Jackson Greaves made a full meal out of Carabosse's sinister visitation. Bourne obviously cherishes Carabosse's dark charisma, for he brings Greaves back as her son Caradoc when Aurora turns 21 and the prophecy is fulfilled. Counterbalancing the evils wrought by Carabosse, Count Lilac is there from the beginning to bestow an extenuating blessing on the newborn. When Aurora falls into her century-long coma, separating her from her true love, Leo the Royal Gamekeeper, Count Lilac intercedes again.

But watch out what you wish for, Leo, the Count seems to be a blood relative of the most notorious Count in all of Gothic literature! Christopher Marney gives Lilac all the bite you could wish for (he and Greaves both share their roles with alternate dancers in this mostly double-cast production) - providing a sensational moment that sends us out to intermission.

Act 2 plunges us into the new millennium, where the royal estate that is Aurora's resting place is anything but inaccessible in its ivy-covered ruin. Wandering teens take cellphone photos of each other using the imposing spooky entrance gates for their background. Cute: particularly the girleen who makes a point of looking bored by it all. In these altered surroundings, interplay between Ashley Shaw and Dominic North, as Aurora and Leo, is no longer vibrant and innocent as it was in Act 1, growing more mature and achingly romantic. Shaw gets to thoroughly break free of the elegant mold of princesses, while the slender North projects a jauntiness reminiscent of Ray Bolger.

The entire New Adventures production sparkles, except for the loud and huffy sound reproduction accorded to the Tchaikovsky score. Sets by Lez Brotherston are at a Broadway musical extravaganza level unknown to other dance companies, upstaging the Brotherston costumes that merely bristle with magnificence.

How sweet will you find Bourne's Sleeping Beauty? Depends on whether you're offended or delighted by the alterations to the storyline, for Bourne's choreography is certainly true to the spirit of the music at every turn - even when the plot turns are surprising. He casts his story arc slightly into the future to seal the happy ending, where some may feel he's offering new understanding to the much-maligned and persecuted vampire race. After all, shouldn't families with severe eating disorders be allowed their right to happiness - and their stake in the American dream?

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