Matthew Bourne is surely one of the most innovative choreographers in the modern dance world. His male-roled Swan Lake (1994) propelled him to international fame and he's continued creating highly original productions which are performed throughout the world ever since. His latest production Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance re-interprets one of the most-established works in the ballet repertoire. Recognising the age in which Sleeping Beauty was first performed, the 1890's, as an era in which beneath a straight-laced exterior there was a fascination with the supernatural involving stories of vampires, fairies and angels along with romantic tales of love enduring beyond the grave, Bourne's ballet fully indulges in Gothic fantasy and spans over a century, from 1891 to the present-day. In his new interpretation of one of ballet's near fossilized works, Bourne breathes new life into a well-worn classic, effectively reclaiming Tchaikovsky's highly danceable, lush and sensual orchestral score with a new interpretation of an old fairy-tale.
Featuring designs by Olivier Award-winners Lez Brotherston (set and costumes) Paule Constable (lighting) with sound design by Paul Groothuis, the audience's attention is seized from the very opening, with the crying and tantrums of a life-size marionette baby. However, its during a dazzling change of setting to the Edwardian era of picnics and tennis on summer lawns bathed in a golden light, that the evening's brightest star enters. Hannah Vassallo, in the lead role of Aurora, charmed the audience with her innocence and vulnerability. Other memorable highlights include striking Gothic-style make-up for the dancers, the use of angel's wings to identify who among the dancers were among the dead, a hilarious Waltz of the flowers and a stage flooded with a deep, ruby red light at the dénouement of the up-dated fairy-tale. A recorded sound-track also allowed for a variety of sound-effects to create a suitably Gothic atmosphere to the ballet.
Not wanting to post spoilers for those attending Sadler's Wells, London, where Sleeping Beauty:A Gothic Romance will be performed from December 4th to January 26th 2013, I will just say that Bourne's humour is very much of the now-you-see-it-now-you-don't variety, rewarding the attentive viewer with quick-witted and often very funny incidents and gestures. Its worth remembering that modern ballet includes not only innovative dance, and many original dance movements occurred throughout the performance, but also mime and gesture, which in their turn are augmented by costume and scenery; it's the overall combination of these varied factors which modern choreographers such as Bourne fully integrates into his vision of ballet. More than any other production I've ever seen by Bourne's company, there seemed to be a complete harmony and togetherness in the ensemble of dancers. Although on the night several individual dancers shone in performance, none, not even the charming Hannah Vassallo in the lead-role of Aurora, out-shone at the expense of the collective ensemble.
Remarkably, after the last performance on Saturday, the manager of the Theatre Royal for seventeen years, Peter Wilson came onto the stage. He reminded the evening's audience that the theatre had now hosted no less than three productions by Matthew Bourne - Highland Fling (1995) and Edward Scissorhands (2005) were all first performed at the Theatre Royal before being staged in London. I too remember seeing both productions at the Norwich theatre. Although he could not persuade choreographer Matthew Bourne OBE (b. 1960) to come up onto the stage, seizing the moment, Wilson led the audience in giving Bourne and his company New Adventures, now celebrating their 25th anniversary, a standing ovation from an audience which is renowned for its appreciation of dance.
Here's a video clip from Matthew Bourne's Highland Fling