Happily ever after

Choreographer Matthew Bourne's interpretation of Sleeping Beauty leaves everyone happy

Dominic North as Leo and Ashley Shaw as Aurora in Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty.
Dominic North as Leo and Ashley Shaw as Aurora in Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty.PHOTO: JOHAN PERSSON



New Adventures

Esplanade Theatre/Thursday

Sleeping Beauty completes Matthew Bourne's bold interpretations of the famed Tchaikovsky trilogy of ballets, following the success of a Dickensian Nutcracker and a virile Swan Lake featuring an ensemble of male swans.

Bourne, with his penchant for the narrative, lends the wand of his imagination to the backstories of the characters in these balletic classics and, in doing so, conjures new magic in these familiar tales.

To them, he adds a generous sprinkling of drama, pop culture and exuberant dancing.

The curtain comes up on the menacing silhouette of Carabosse, the wicked antagonist, feverishly gesticulating to peals of thunder engulfing Tchaikovsky's overture.

It is immediately clear that this is no sweet fairy tale, but will it have its happily ever after?

Sleeping Beauty, for all the symphonic magnificence of its score, is a ballet lacking in dramatic heft as its co-creators Tchaikovsky and choreographer Marius Petipa posited its characters as symbols in the tussle between good and evil.

The choreography at the 1890 premiere was intricate and delightfully inventive, taking its cues from the score.

Bourne therefore bends the tale to invest it with personality.

The Victorian royal couple turn to Carabosse in their childless state and are presented with a daughter. But in the folly of their ingratitude, they invite a curse upon their child.

The child Aurora in this version is far from a typical princess. As an endearingly devilish baby, she is portrayed by an infinitely watchable life-sized puppet as she climbs up curtains and nips at the shins of palace attendants.

Five glamorous sooty-eyed fairies, along with their leader Count Lilac, arrive at nightfall to bless the royal child, each performing a solo with overt hat-tipping to Petipa's dainty choreography.

Of particular note is the comically lackadaisical Fairy of Plenty, who flip-flops through his solo, ingeniously illuminating the undercurrents of the music.

In the following act, Aurora is a restless girl on the cusp of adulthood, falling for Leo, the lowly gardener of the palace.

With no regard for courtly decorum, she runs around barefoot at her coming-of-age party.

Lez Brotherston transforms the stage into a creamy Edwardian country house, complete with enthusiastic tennis players and waltzing couples.

The statue of a fallen angel in the background is a cheeky reminder of this short-lived merriment, as Caradoc, the son of Carabosse who is hungry for revenge, arrives at the scene.

With his broad frame, Adam Maskell cuts a brooding Caradoc as he makes advances on Ashley Shaw's sunny Aurora.

His assertive gaze raises suspicion and trepidation among the party guests, who are rooted to their spots as the couple dances.

Bourne excels here, revealing character through movement. Caradoc is suave with his sharp lines, tilting his chin downwards as he spirals his body. And while Aurora is skittish in her youth, she also is imbued with a lush fluidity.

In her duet with Dominic North's Leo, which Bourne sets to the soaring strains of the Rose Adagio, she nuzzles up to him and freely entrusts her weight into his hands.

However, in large ensemble scenes, the choreography tends to be repetitive and forgettable.

There are moments of delicacy - when leaps coincide with an emphatic chord or hands flutter to a woodwind trill - but these are no surprises after a while.

The intermission spans the 100-year period of sleeping that is bestowed after Aurora is poisoned by a black rose from Caradoc.

Leo, having been bitten by Count Lilac in the neck, is immortal and has been camping outside the palace in the hope of reuniting with his lover.

This is Bourne's Twilight-like twist to the fairy tale, which leads its hero to Caradoc's salacious lair.

Decked in red and black velvet, the ensemble grins through bump-and-grind routines while preparing for the cult wedding ritual that Caradoc has orchestrated. Count Lilac and Leo ambush the villain, kill him and rescue Aurora, who is shaken by the harrowing experience.

So Bourne does grant his lovers a happily ever after, following the beguiling path of romance and revenge he has led them down.

Though flawed, Sleeping Beauty also gives its audience a happily ever after through its daring imagination, evocative designs and a new look at the established tale.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2016, with the headline 'Happily ever after'. Subscribe