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Dance: The Sleeping Beauty- A Gothic Romance By Matthew Bourne (A New Adventures Production)

By Phyllis Goldman
ART TIMES November 2013 online

Cast of Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty
The Cast of Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty
(photo: Simon Annand)

Matthew Bourne has put his choreographic imagination to work on yet another ballet score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and again has come up with an evening of witty surprises, bold characters, and extraordinary dancing. Remember the feathered knickers of the swan men in his “Swan Lake, “ a ballet that startled audiences years ago when it toured the world to become a living classic of its own. Now after a long wait Bourne’s “Sleeping Beauty” has arrived.

Not wanting to be left out of the current gothic “trend’ in books, theatre, Television Shows, and Halloween costumes, Bourne is courageous enough even to include some “vampirism” in his ballet, keeping his plot, ever faithful to Tchaikovsky’s monumental score yet venturing forward into some astonishing choreography. It is an odd pairing, but it works.

Cast of Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty
Tom Jackson Greaves, Mari Kamata and Joe Walkling
(photo: Simon Annand)

The houselights go down, and the audience sits back preparing for a one-of-a-kind rendition of a classic that will both challenge the purists, who may deem it a sacrilege, and delight those who will be captivated by the choreographer’s twisted scenarios. Bourne gives full respect to the composer’s score from the cymbals crashing that signal an ominous foretelling for the lovely princess to the romantic and jubilant finale. The Bourne humor sets in early when the baby Aurora is first seen as a life-size puppet in her carriage, flailing her arms and legs (manipulated with sticks and strings by two dancers hidden in the dark.) How fussy and ill behaved this Princess is at the onset. The fairies lavish gifts and good wishes on the baby except for Carabosse, who brings a black rose and a deadly curse. Keeping to the script, Bourne softens the curse placed on Aurora by the evil Carabosse, just as the Lilac Fairy softened the curse in Petipa’s version from death to one hundred years of peaceful sleep.

Growing up into a lovely teen, Hannah Vassalo, dances exquisitely, barefoot and belligerent, dashing about the set with amazing facility as if she is priming for a marathon. If you squint a bit, you will see in Vassalo a glimmer of the legendary Gelsey Kirkland, in the way Vassallo holds her head and places her arms, ever reaching from her exquisitely arched back.

In Bourne’s version, Carabosse and her son Caradoc, (yes she has a son) are both danced by Adam Maskell with appropriate venom. Mama Carabosse has been holding a grudge because she was not properly thanked for helping the queen have a child (how, we don’t know, but this IS a fairy tale) and her son holds the same bitterness and seeks revenge by claiming Aurora as his own.

Cast of Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty
Dominic North as Leo and Hannah Vassallo as Aurora
(photo: Simon Annand)

But it is Leo, the gardener she truly loves. You may think “Rose Adagio” here, with sequence after sequence of choreography as the sleeping Aurora, waits for the proper kiss and the “happily ever after” conclusion.

Caradoc tries, but Aurora, stubborn as ever knows which kiss she will awaken too, and it is not Caradoc. All this is carefully woven into the “vision scene” a travelogue of sequences created by Lez Brotherston’s sets. Mr. Bourne’s trusted set and costume designer has come through again. The characters travel through time from 1890 to present day. The lovers reunite, and Leo awakens her with a kiss and their relationship is merrily defined beneath the bedcovers. For me, the moment where Leo picks up speed and jogs comically in place trying to outrun Caradoc and reach his beloved is the perfect use of humor in movement. No one better to employ this than Matthew Bourne.

Phyllis Goldman lives in New York City, and has performed there. now teaches a special program in ballet exercise for mature men and women, She has written for Backstage newspaper; Elle, Interview, The Forward, and Dancer Magazine.

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