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Bourne's new production of Sleeping Beauty has added bite

Hannah Vassallo as Aurora in Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty
Hannah Vassallo as Aurora in Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty

Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

In order to complete the trio of Tchaikovsky's works following on from his triumphant adaptions of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker!, Matthew Bourne is now on tour with Sleeping Beauty – A Gothic Romance.

Ballet veterans and those new to ballet alike, will not be disappointed with this absolutely spectacular production.

Not the most famous of the three and in fact, from what I have previously seen, more of a show piece than a story telling device, Bourne has had to slightly re-imagine the story of Sleeping Beauty in order to do what he does best – tell a magical story through dance.

Using their bodies in a way that doesn’t seem possible to explain unspoken feelings and emotions, these incredible dancers, backed up by Lez Brotherston’s stunning sets and exquisite costumes, draw the audience into their fairytale world and allow a couple of hours of escapism to a world of “happily ever after”.

Bourne’s eerie new gothic fairytale tackles the traditional themes you would expect from Sleeping Beauty and the main story is basically the same as you would imagine.

However, he has added a more supernatural side to this love story and brought it up to date with less classical ballet, a more feisty heroine, hints of modern dance and stunning interpretive dance. Having famously turned the Swans in Swan Lake into an all male cast, he has now added vampires to the story of Sleeping Beauty, giving it a new lease of life.

The story begins in the year that it was originally performed as a ballet, 1890. The King and Queen, unable to have a child of their own, are gifted a baby by Carabosse, the dark fairy. 21 years later, during her coming of age party, she begins to fall for Leo – the Royal Gamekeeper. However, having not been rewarded for her kindness to the King and Queen, Carabosse promises revenge and curses Princess Aurora.

As the princess slips into a 100 year sleep, Leo is left bereft and heart broken. The only option? To be made immortal by one of the vampires and wait for the next 100 years for her to wake. When she awakes from his kiss, Leo is tricked as he is replaced by Carabosse’s son, Caradoc who plans to marry her. But worry not, as in all fairy tales, there is a happy ending.

The Company of Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty
The Company of Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty

Each and every dancer on stage was spectacular and every move seemed effortless. However, the stars of the show for me were Tom Jackson Greaves as Carabosse/ Caradoc, Ashley Shaw as Princess Aurora and Chris Trenfield as Leo the Game Keeper.

With endless charisma and oozing evil, Greaves’ performance was completely awe inspiring while the beautiful duets by Shaw and Trenfield as their love grew and they leapt into each others’ arms, felt almost too private and emotional to be watched. The love and pain felt by them was so clear to see in the choreography and was more believable and descriptive than I ever thought a dance could be. How can so much emotion be expressed without a word?

Finally, well worth a mention is the puppet “playing” baby Aurora. Not the usual lifeless doll, it was wonderfully animated by members of the cast creating some very funny moments.

Seamlessly managing to update the dancing to show the travel through time without descending into anything too modern was done successfully but may not be to everybody’s tastes. However, not being what I would call classical ballet, with no pointe work, the dancers often barefoot and up to date costumes, in my opinion, makes this production all the better and more accessible.

Previously, I have seen ballets where the focus is who does the best pirouette, who can leap the highest or whose pointe work is strongest, seemingly without any real regard for the story. However, this is not the case with Bourne’s work. The focus is story telling, immersing the audience in the fairy tale, making them hold their collective breath and becoming completely beholden to the dancers on stage.

I have never felt such an overwhelming urge to get up and cheer at the end of a performance. I didn’t know if there was an etiquette to this at the ballet, but it turned out no one else cared. As the final scene finished, the entire audience erupted and cheered.

I cannot recommend Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty enough and I defy anyone, classical ballet lovers or ballet newbies, not to become completely caught up in the story, the emotions and the marvel of this production.

What’s the best way to do love, lust, desire, devotion, vengeance and vampires? Most definitely and unreservedly, the Bourne way.

Rhiannon Lawson

  • Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is at the Marlowe until Saturday, May 18, with performances at 7.30pm every night, and at 2.30pm on Thursday and Saturday.Tickets from £14.50. Call 01227 787787.
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