United Kingdom Tchaikovsky: Sleeping Beauty – A Gothic Romance: New Adventures, Matthew Bourne (director/choreographer), Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 30.11.2012 (SRT)
Matthew Bourne and his New Adventures company are justifiably famous for their interpretations of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, but it has taken him much longer to get round to The Sleeping Beauty. He writes that he finally got the inspiration when he visited Tchaikovsky’s country home outside Moscow and the results are well worth the wait. The central plank of Bourne’s vision is to allow Aurora’s story to unfold in real time. She is born in 1890, the year of the ballet’s premiere, hence her 21st birthday comes in 1911. She then falls asleep for 100 years and wakes up in the modern day, her wedding taking place “last night”. Each Act, therefore, has its own era and its own style. The scene of Aurora’s birth is full of late-Victorian grandeur, while the birthday party is full of Edwardian elegance. Then the movement for the last two acts is more jagged and thrusting, echoing much of the contemporary dance world.
In addition to this, Bourne injects more energy into the story through altering the love interest. He says he was dissatisfied with the idea that Aurora never meets the Prince until the third act when he wakens her – where is the drama in that? – so he introduces Leo, a young gardener, into the birthday scene of the second act and shows us that he and Aurora have fallen in love. But once she has pricked her finger, how will he keep that love alive while she sleeps for 100 years? The answer comes by way of Count Lilac, the King of the Fairies, the same fairy who neutralised Carabosse’s evil spell. It turns out that the fairies double as vampires, so Leo allows himself to be bitten so that he can wait for Aurora’s reawakening. Unfortunately for him, Carabosse’s evil son has had similar ideas, and this leads to a dramatic showdown towards the end. The final act is full of reds and blacks, lending a dark atmosphere to what becomes a very sinister scene, meaning that the happy ending has to be hard fought for, and it’s all the more worthwhile when it comes.
Bourne has always been a remarkably gifted storyteller, and this production shows that he has lost none of that edge. The tale unfolds with clarity and style, helped by some projections which fill us in on parts of the story we might otherwise miss, and he includes deft touches of comedy alongside the passion and drama. Furthermore, his choreography, while not strictly Classical, is still full of elegance and grace, something used most effectively in the duets for Leo and Aurora: the famous Rose Adagio marries supple legato movements with Tchaikovsky’s soaring music, and their reunion at the end of the piece begins with some gently understated gestures before flowering into the full passion of love. Each of the six good fairies is neatly and individually characterised, and the opening tableau of Carabosse, silhouetted against a back light as she produces the child, is unforgettable.
After its week in Edinburgh the show transfers to Sadler’s Wells over Christmas and goes on tour in the New Year. I found it a real treat, showcasing Bourne at his ebullient best, and a fine way of marking his company’s Silver Jubilee. Incidentally, while there are some dark themes in the work, I didn’t think that any of it would worry younger audience members, so one should feel free to take the family along.