Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty

New Adventures
The Lowry, Salford

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty Credit: Esme Freeman

The clue’s in the full title... a complete re-working of one of the greatest folk tales, and its much-loved Tchaikovsky ballet, by one of the few people who could get away with both.

Then again if you’re one of the even fewer choreographers around who gets his own autograph hunters during the interval, everything is possible!

From the notes he was making between times, Matthew Bourne maybe still regards these world première performances as a work in progress.

And while you can still see one or two of the joins, in occasionally cluttered or not-quite-fully-formed dance routines, there is much, much more to admire.

For a start, concentrate just a little and the whole legend itself makes better sense in this re-telling. As a gothic romance it will also chime perfectly with the Twilight generation, and spanning the story over a ‘real-time’ century makes so much more impact on the variety of choreography brought to stage.

This Sleeping Beauty, Aurora, is born in Victorian 1890, the year the ballet was first performed; a thorn-induced coma befalls her in Edwardian 1911—but not before she has already met her Prince; and she awakens amidst a 21st century orgy of designer dressing. What’s not to understand?

The story is given wings, along with several of the characters—and even the stage footlights—with designer Les Brotherston’s usual intimate attention to detail, as well as his great scenic flourishes.

There’s always a cinematic style to Bourne’s work, but in his clever use of puppetry here there’s also an old-style theatricality. The infant Aurora is a cute marionette, even if her adolescent blank-faced version may spook more impressionable youngsters.

But as her grown-up character, Hannah Vassallo steals your heart, particularly in the blissful courtship dances with Dominic North, when both took the lead roles on opening night.

When at its best the choreography is genuinely thrilling, with a real sense of danger added by the dual role of Carabosse/Caradoc, danced here by the towering Ben Bunce.

There’s absolutely no reason why Bourne’s Beauty won’t become another of his roaring successes—or even a template for the legend itself!

Reviewer: David Upton

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