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Matthew Bourne’s "Sleeping Beauty", A Gothic Romance, at New York City Center

- Onstage with the Dancers

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Matthew Bourne’s
Sleeping Beauty
A Gothic Romance

Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Directed, Choreographed, New Scenario by
Matthew Bourne
(Bourne’s New Adventures Website)

Set and Costume Design: Lez Brotherston
Lighting Design: Paule Constable
Sound Design: Paul Groothuis
Assoc. Director: Etta Murfitt
Assoc. Choreographer: Christopher Marney

Starring: Hannah Vassallo as Aurora,
Chris Trenfield as Leo, Christopher Marney as Count Lilac,
Adam Maskell as Carabosse/Caradoc

In Performances at New York City Center

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 24, 2013

Matthew Bourne’s 2012 production of Sleeping Beauty, a Gothic Romance, was inspired the previous year, when Mr. Bourne visited Tchaikovsky’s country retreat, near Moscow. This fanciful and fantastic version of a renowned ballet is set from 1890 (the year Tchaikovsky and Petipa debuted the original Sleeping Beauty ballet), Aurora’s birth, to 1911, Aurora’s “coming of age”, to 2011, when Aurora and the Kingdom awake, a century later. Tonight’s opening night cast starred Hannah Vassallo as the young princess, pricked by a poisoned black rose, the impetuous fiancée of the prince. But, this is no ordinary Sleeping Beauty, as Mr. Bourne explains in the program. He imagines the ballet as “ending up in the present day”, which was 2011 in its London creation. He creates Fin-de-Siècle imagery for the baby Aurora, with a puppet doll sitting in the cradle and climbing up the curtains. The “coming of age” festivities mimic the Edwardian era, and the “vision scene” features Leo (Chris Trenfield), the Royal Gamekeeper, in a second stage turn, instead of in a galloping, bucolic introduction. That is, the sleeping Aurora already loves Leo, and soon they’ll be reunited and wed.

Mr. Bourne’s configuration of known and unknown characters seemed confusing to several audience members in my row, but only accolades were overheard. I agree. This is a spectacle, with a variety of dance genres (waltzes, barefoot modern) added to the staple of ballet. And, it’s a wondrous spectacle, with more than a hint of demons in the drama. Instead of the Lilac Fairy, we have Count Lilac, King of the Fairies (Christopher Marney), and another male dancer, Adam Maskell, is both Carabosse the “dark fairy” in drag, and her son, Caradoc, who is secretly in love with Aurora. It’s Carabosse, in Mr. Bourne’s tale, who has given Aurora, the baby, to King Benedict (Edwin Ray) and Queen Eleanor (Daisy May Kemp), and Carabosse feels betrayed and abandoned. Her son seethes for revenge and possession. This balletic psychodrama is ripe for psychoanalysis for years to come. The Fairies here are Ardor (Mari Kamata), Hibernia (Kate Lyons), Autumnus (Joe Walkling), Feral (Ashley Shaw), and Tantrum (Liam Mower). Two Suitors, Lord Rupert and Viscount Aubrey, are Daniel Collins and Danny Reubens. Miss Maddox, Aurora’s Nanny, is Nicole Kabera, and her Maid, Flossie, is Pia Driver. Archie and Bertie, Palace Footmen, are Leon Moran and Phil Jack Gardner.

The gestalt of this busy, buoyant, and bellicose ballet is the fascination in a new take on an old favorite. So many Swan Lakes, Sleeping Beauties, and Cinderellas are dance-alike stories, with differing choreographic ornamentations and surprises in sets and costumes. Matthew Bourne’s ballets (See a review of his Swan Lake) are freshly conceived storylines, choreography, and visuals, with surprises galore. In tonight’s Sleeping Beauty, Lez Brotherston’s sets and costumes included a conveyor belt, on which dancers whizz across the stage, a garden reception, an infant puppet with athletic prowess, a poisoned black rose, a Club dance, some sexual references, and drag. Paul Groothuis’ sound design keeps the recorded music spitfire or serene, and Paule Constable’s lighting keeps the ambiance sunlit or smoky. One might wonder what Tchaikovsky, no less Petipa, might think, had they the chance to experience this balletic reinvention of their classical work, but imagination is key to cultural progress. Think Nijinsky, Graham, even Eifman. Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is unique, bold choreography, a ballet for our time and our temperament. Kudos to all.

Adam Maskell and Hannah Vassallo
in "Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty"
Courtesy of Simon Annand

Hannah Vassallo as Aurora
in "Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty"
Courtesy of Simon Annand

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at