There is no denying the genius of Matthew Bourne. The revolutionary choreography of ballet masterpieces such as the reinvention of Nutcracker!, Cinderella, Carmen (Carman, for the purposes of the New Adventures production) and now Sleeping Beauty is something which has both inspired and awed me since I was at school. I was fortunate enough to catch Sleeping Beauty during its run at the Bristol Hippodrome on May 9th and my goodness, was it a feast for the eyes.
From the beauty of the ensemble choreography, to the delicate attention to detail that had clearly been poured into both costumes and set alike, this production oozed class, style and quite frankly, Matthew Bourne.
The title role of the Princess Aurora was played by Hannah Vassallo. She slipped into the role with elegance and ease. Her flighty footwork and effortless turns and leaps were a real treat to watch. Despite the fact that, I personally, associate Aurora with being a blonde, the fact that Ms. Vassallo is a brunette did not make me sceptical that she was, in fact, the kidnapped Princess in the slightest.
Her “Prince” in this story, the Royal Gamekeeper, played by Dominic North, was an equal match to the tight execution of Vassallo. North captured the hunky, yet affectionate, though seemingly out of his depth, love interest of the Princess. His strength and masculinity shone through in what could easily have been choreography which, given to the wrong dancer, seemed quite effeminate – as can be the way with ballet. Throughout, the story was carried through the medium of dance with general ease. There was the odd occasion where, I felt, that the story became somewhat lost in gloopy and excessive dance which could have been cut back by a couple of minutes. However, we have to remember that Bourne had a score to keep to, and to fill it all must have been a mammoth task within itself.
From the opening of the first act you could tell you were in for the “Gothic Romance” as the production had been advertised. There was something reminiscent of Twilight as the monstrous silhouette of the Evil Fairy, Carabosse (played by Tom Jackson Greaves) appears, giving birth in a highly stylised and dramatic fashion. The way this worked with the lighting and Tchaikovsky’s score was thrilling, as we moved fluidly into the second act and the birth of Princess Aurora. Lez Brotherston, whose genius idea it was to portray the baby as a puppet, deserves to be feared and revered in equal measures. It was absolutely brilliant design, and the movement provided by dancers, dressed head to toe in black, blending into the backdrop, was seamless. The lush set design for the palace (also designed by Bourne and Brotherston) was fitting for all the time periods which the ballet covered.
I was, however, disappointed by the set in Act Two. A strange looking palace was positioned such that a bizarre depth of field was created. On top of this, the surrounding grass didn’t seem to fit around the palace, going in the wrong direction and then abruptly ending behind a hedgerow which didn’t make sense in its position onstage. I think the biggest disappointment with this, however, was that it seemed to have been bent in transit and a large crease was visible in the middle of the flat. I have always been blown away by the design of Bourne’s productions, but this was a fall from the standard which I expect. It was a shame, because the storytelling of the scene was so beautiful. It was a shame that I was distracted by a set which didn’t seem to make sense.
For me, though, the highlight of the piece was the 100 year jump from 1911 to 2011. At the end of the first half, Leo (the Gamekeeper and love interest) had been bitten by Count Lilac, King of the Fairies (Christopher Marney), so that he could survive the time it would take for Aurora to come back from the other side. To open the second half, the jump in time was done with ease and a somewhat comedic value, something which I feel the cast may have had a little to do with. A group of young tourists find the garden to where – it is supposed – Aurora was taken and begin to take photographs. Iconic, and socially accurate.
To put it simply, I was in awe. I can forgive the set disappointment for the beauty of the rest of the production, although I felt the second half was a bit slow. You just can’t deny that what Matthew Bourne has done with such an iconic and traditional fairy tale, is genius. It’s beautiful, lush and, at times, slightly homoerotic – a trademark of Bourne’s productions. If you have been unsure or unconvinced of ballet so far, I urge you to go and see a New Adventures production. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty continues its UK Tour until May 25th.