Sleeping Beauty – the Power of Fairytale

Matthew Bourne is probably one of Britain’s few celebrity choreographers. His name will be familiar to both the ballet going audiances, but also the larger and more lucrative musical lovers crowd.

His latest creation, which launched in 2011 is Sleeping Beauty, a ballet I first saw back in 1992 performed by the Moscow City Ballet. Dance has been a massive part of my life since I started ballet lessons aged four. There are things that ballet dancers do with their bodies which are so beautiful and perfect that I would sell my soul to have the ability to do them. Funnily enough I don’t feel the same way about writing, but perhaps that’s because I know that with enough work I can get my writing to those standards, whilst the devil’s magic is the only way I am going to be a boney ballet dancer who can turn 32 fouttés. Going to see a good ballet is a huge joy, but Matthew Bourne is commercially successful for a reason. His dances are not classical ballet but are strongly combined with contemporary dancing, and always relay on strong acting ability from his cast. He uses classical scores which he loves to explore the fairytales and stories which he produces in exciting new ways. His Swans in Swan Lake were male. Cinderella was set in World War 2 and now Sleeping Beauty is a Gothic Fairytale. And gothic it was. In a question and answer session following the performance Bourne explained that he chose the date of 1890 for the initial scenes as that is the year that the score was completed. In this period gothic was very much in fashion from architecture to painting and of course literature. And it is this literature which has inspired him and made this ballet so successful with me. Fittingly, it was also a period in British history when the belief in fairies was at an all-time high.
We all know that Sleeping Beauty’s plot is dodgy as dodgy can be. Like Snow White there is a seriously creepy aspect to a grown man falling in love with an essentislly comatose woman. It represents passivity in women sure, but taken to a terrifying new level. But Matthew Bourne recognises this. Not just by making the romantic hero someone who already knows and loves Aurora. Oh no! He goes one better and highlights the troubling core of the original story by having the sleeping Aurora’s captor fall in love with her so that even when she wakes she still seems to be a sleeping, passive vessel for his attentions.
This really was the perfect mix of fairytale and Gothicism. And it is a mix rather than a blend. The first two acts feel strongly like a fairytale set in the Edwardian period. It’s appropriately creepy and has a great deal of humour, delivered by Aurora, a satisfyingly rough and tumble Princess, and her lover, the gardener Leo. The gothic feel arrives with a Vampire’s bite at the very end of the act as the curtain falls.
I already want to see this again. I could have sat in the theatre and waited for the following night’s performance, I loved it so much. And a great deal of that love came from Matthew Bourne’s eye for a good story, told well. Whilst I wait for another opportunity to see this I will have to find a good solid book of fairytales, and bring out my collection of Victorian gothic novels. Perhaps inspiration will strike.


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