Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is magnificently theatrical. The choreography, set, costumes, special effects and subversive humour bring a hint of macabre pantomime, and transform the ballet with a gothic twist.

I find it hard to tell whether or not I am reading too much into Bourne’s work. Is the fact that the infant Aurora is entertainingly represented in Act One by a marionette a way of showing that the baby girl is expected to be her parents’ puppet, or is it merely a bit of fun? To what extent are the choreographic references to Petipa’s work in the Fairies’ solos a joke, a send-up, a tribute, a witty criticism or just a starting point?

I thought the most interesting treatment was that of the Rose Adagio. In Petipa’s ballet, although the music is highly emotional, the choreography has a wonderfully classical restraint. Bourne takes the opposite approach, with his Aurora throwing herself across the stage into the arms of the Gamekeeper that she loves. It made me think about Petipa’s use of Tchaikovsky’s music in a new way.

Perhaps I am too conditioned by familiarity with the classical ballet: I missed the dramatic mimed preparation for Carabosse’s arrival and the thrill of Aurora’s first entrance from upstage right. I also missed the original ballet’s choreography.  Bourne’s choreographic work is far more than just competent, but I don’t think that it would stand up quite so well in a studio, without Lez Brotherston’s glamorous designs.

I wondered why the corps de ballet in Act Three were dressed in Edwardian underwear: had they time to get partially undressed before going to sleep for 100 years? I also wondered why the Gamekeeper was given a vampire’s bite by Count Lilac, although the sight of the wings he grew added an Adams-family-style piquancy to the happy domestic picture at the end.

The dancing was of a consistently high standard, but the cast list, a generic one, didn’t specify the casting on the night: why not? The theatre had run out of programmes (why? – they must have known it would be a sell out), and so all we had was a hastily photocopied sheet, that they were at some pains to hand out to everyone at the end, and which could surely have been specific to the performance. I should have particularly have liked to know who danced Aurora: a petite dancer with a huge capacity for travelling and using the space (Ashley Shaw or Hannah Vassallo?). How are we to get to know and look out for our favourite dancers in other productions if we aren’t given this information?

Maggie Watson

5 March 2013

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