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Saturday
Nov022013

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

Consider me a fan. I loved this Sleeping Beauty.

The production is beautifully and cleverly designed and the story keeps pretty much to the dramatic arc of the Petipa version but with twists. It’s set in 1890, 1911, 2011, and Yesterday. Carabosse has a son, Caradoc, who avenges his mother’s death in the third and fourth. Prince Charming has been transmogrified into Leo The Royal Gameskeeper who appears in the birthday act as Aurora's forbidden love. The Lilac Fairy is a man, Count Lilac, who reveals himself a vampire at the end of the vision scene (the vampire bit doestn't quite hold up in the fourth act). The most compelling character in the first act (aside from the five wonderful fairies) is the cutest puppet baby since Trouble in Anthony Minghella’s production of Madama Butterfly. It wins our heart as Aurora in the first act and again in the fourth act as Aurora and Leo’s baby turned fairy, flying in one of the most beautiful images of the ballet.

Bourne’s choreography (complete with welcome upper body movement very reminiscent of Cecchetti renversés, almost lost these days) lacks Petipa’s sense of logic and symmetry but has enough kinetic interest to keep the audience’s interest on pure dance terms. But more important, it never forgets to tell a story––a dramatic and fantastical one with clear and subtle human emotions throughout. How different this was from Anne Marie Holmes’s ossified production of Le Corsaire at ABT last spring. There are sly references to the Petipa conception, the best coming the vision scene when Aurora is sleepwalked over a continuing line of crouching men flanked by grounded sleepwalking women.

There’s a distinct slant towards pan-sexuality: the most feminine of the first act fairies (my favorite Fairy of the Falling Crumbs in Frederick Ashton’s 1968 production for the Royal Ballet), is danced by a man. As well, Carabosse is male, and the Vision Scene corps de ballet is both men and women (all in shoulder blade skimming long dark hair and beautifully dressed in cream colored sweats).

The music was canned, unfortunately, but the very good recording constantly confirmed and then reconfirmed again how much the score is a vehicle for narrative. And there was some pleasure in it, I suppose––beautifully played, is was much better than risking the potential aural pains of a woebegone pick-up pit band.

As a forespice in front of the actual show, 13 students from New York’s Frank Sinatra School of the Arts High School danced a short ballet choreographed to the last act Polonaise by them under the supervision of two senior dancers from Bourne’s production company New Adventures. How charming this was––well crafted and well danced! A perfect introduction to Tchaikovsky and The Sleeping Beauty.

All in all, a great Saturday afternoon at the ballet.

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