Super director/choreographer Matthew Bourne has a knack for taking classical stories and kicking them up a notch for today’s audiences. Two examples are his brilliant take on Swan Lake, which played on Broadway some years back, and The Car Man, which is a modern take on Bizet’s Carmen. This time around Bourne’s story of choice is one that a lot of us only know as a Disney cartoon, but Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance is a far cry from the cheery version that Disney created; in fact, it’s considerably darker. The only thing the two have in common is that one of Tchaikovsky’s musical themes was adapted into the Disney classic “Once Upon A Dream.” Bourne’s take might not be what you are use to but it shows us again how a genius like Bourne can take classical ballet and give it a kick in the keester to make it accessible for today.
…a must see for all lovers of dance and theater alike.
Bourne starts his story in 1890 with the birth of Baby Aurora, born to Queen Eleanor (Nicole Kabera) and King Benedict (Edwin Ray). Because they have not been able to have children in the past, they enlist the help of Caraboose, the Dark Fairy (Adam Maskell). We now move to 1911, and Caraboose has been exciled. Princess Aurora (Heather Vassallo) is 21 and is catching the attention of the boys. Caradoc (son of Caraboose also played by Maskell) is determined to get revenge and kidnaps Aurora and takes her to the land of the sleepwalkers where she can only be awakened by a kiss. I think you know how this is going to end. Leo the Royal Gamekeeper and prince figure (Chris Trenfield) ultimately rescues Aurora from being married and, as they say, “they all live happily ever after.” We end with Aurora and Leo having a child of their own.
Bourne’s choreography as always, is inventive and utilizes a variety of styles from classical to jazz to modern. The dance at the wedding has a very modern feel to it while the earlier sections have the traditional ballet feel intact. Also, all the performers are good actors besides being exquisite dancers. You don’t see that a lot of the time in classical ballet. When Vassallo and Trenfield or Vassallo and Maskell dance together, you can tell there is real love and tension between them, meaning there is real characterization happening with each performer.
Production elements are par excellent as with all previous Bourne productions. Lez Brotherston’s sets range from fairy tale palace to modern day hell nightclub all with impeccable detail in the paint work. Brotherston’s costumes are equally as impressive. The fairies are costumed in snazzy and hip dance attire complete with wings on the back. Paul Constable’s lighting goes from bright to evil looking and all moods in between.
The only nagging thing with this production for me was the use of a recorded music track, albeit by a full orchestra conducted by Gina McCormack. It sounded really big and lush, but I still would have preferred live players.
Regardless of that minor quibble, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures Dance Company’s production of Sleeping Beauty A Gothic Romance is a must see for all lovers of dance and theater alike. From the production to the performances it proves again why Bourne is a true innovator in his field.
Note: The cast reviewed reflects casting from the performance on 11/14/13. Casting is subject to change.
Running Time: Two hours and ten minutes with one intermission.
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, A Gothic Fairy Tale plays through Sunday, November 17, 2013 at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House which is located at 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. To purchase tickets click here.