Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty review: A dazzling reawakening
The Bourne formula remains fruitful
Venue: Bord Gais Energy Theatre
Date Reviewed: November 11th, 2015
This may well be the sleeper hit of Matthew Bourne’s Tchaikovsky triumvirate of ballets with how well it twists the classic 1890 tale into a more current drama. In it, his respect for ballet coincides with his distinctly exuberant style on several levels – from manipulating the plot with vampires and tennis-playing to mixing classical repertoire with theatrics worthy of the West End.
Lez Brotherston’s dynamic costumes and sets take on a life of their own, and the story begins with this strong sense of vitality as the royal parents realise the curse their daughter faces, having brought it upon themselves. The newborn princess first appears as a feisty baby climbing the curtains, and her spiritedness multiplies as she comes of age and pricks her finger on a black rose, set as a trap by the evil Carabosse. Fast-forward to when Princess Aurora wakes up from her 100-year sleep and, unusually, she re-emerges in the present day.
Much transpires during the interim, and Bourne’s timing works like magic, not only in the story arc but also in the way he crafts particular movements, especially the group dance scenes.
In more traditional interpretations of the classics, the dancers can seem so concerned with the intricacies of their steps that they exude an exclusionary feel. Bourne’s performers do just the opposite, pausing for mere nano-seconds in the midst of their waltzing to draw the audience into the fun.
When Cordelia Braithwaite as Aurora dances with Chris Trenfield as her love interest – who also happens to be the gardener – their free-spirited duet practically spills off the stage with abandon. Likewise the fairies, half of whom are men, tantalise with names and personalities such as Ardor, Feral, Tantrum, Hibernia, Autumnus and Count Lilac, so that while ample respect gets paid to Marius Petipa’s original story as well as Tchaikovsky’s music, this Sleeping Beauty successfully straddles time.
The conclusion features another signature group scene, which, while compelling in its dazzling red costumes and spirited choreography, also begins to feel a bit formulaic. This haka-style eruption of energy is signature Bourne. Still, if his formula for masterful storytelling continues to propel ballet forward into the next generation with such verve and intensity, it’s a plan well worth following.