Sunday, December 29, 2013

Honourable Mention: Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

I came across an article about Matthew Bourne’s choreographed and directed version of Sleeping Beauty that had just finished its Los Angeles run and is due to tour the US. The twist, as well as modernising the ballet, being that it involves vampires.

I had posted the article on a couple of Facebook groups I’m involved in, sighing that it was a shame that the production was an ocean away when I was contacted by a friend called Ian, who had watched the production on the BBC and informed me that it was (for a week) on iPlayer. Indeed I have since discovered that it is available on dvd/Blu-ray in the US and UK.

I dutifully watched the production on iPlayer and, whilst I have been to see the NBT production of Dracula, I must say that I am no expert when it comes to ballet and thus I tend to look at dance productions (with a certain exception) as honourable mentions rather than reviews. Also the vampirism in this is hidden until just before the intermission point.

Using the evocative music of Tchaikovsky, the filmed production opens with intertitles telling us of the king and queen who had no children making a deal with the dark fairy Carabosse (Adam Maskell) but, having failed to offer the gratitude expected, the fairy threatens revenge. The ballet then opens proper, set in 1890, with a sequence involving a puppetry baby that is just the right level of creepy to fit in with the Gothic atmosphere that the ballet looks to generate.

succumbing to the curse
Following the blessings of the light fairies, led by Count Lilac (Christopher Marney), the baby is cursed by Carabosse. However as we look to 1911 and the coming of age party for Aurora (Hannah Vassallo) intertitles tell us the Carabosse died exiled and forgotten by all but her son Caradoc (also Adam Maskell). Unknown to her parents Aurora is in love with groundskeeper Leo (Dominic North). Caradoc attends the party and, from the prick of a midnight blue rose, the princess is sent into her sleep.

biting Leo
Leo is blamed and distraught – as we can imagine – and as the ballet slows to intermission the last we see is Leo in Count Lilac’s arms, the Count revealing fangs and biting him. As the ballet reopens a hundred years have passed and Leo has camped before the locked castle gates. Now let us talk vampires. If it wasn’t for the fangs we would have assumed fairies (and to be fair there are folk tales of blood drinking faery folk). Of course Leo is mortal and turned, which fits in with vampires much more (as do the fangs). That said, turned Leo sports small wings, just like the fairy-folk. It is a merging of tropes that allows the hero to be dragged through time, appeals to the popularity of the vampire genre and very much fits the gothic ambiance.

skull faced minions
Whilst we see winged minions with skull faces, the only other overtly vampiric moment is it the finale when Count Lilac and Caradoc battle and the Count once more reveals his fangs. However, if you think about it, the fairy tale epitaph of “happily ever after” could only truly work if the heroes are, somehow, immortal. Vampirism, it seems, would be a means to achieve this.

fangs again
Remarkably lush this is worth checking out, even if you are as much a philistine as I when it comes to ballet. Indeed, I mused whilst watching that it is, in some respects, mime with dance. Does that sound disrespectful – I didn’t mean it to. But unlike more contemporary dance forms where dialogue might be used, the dancers in ballet (or at least those I have seen) are mute. Thus a broad brush symbolism can project the story. Hence, one suspects, vampires – for what an evocative trope and meaningful symbol the undead have become.

At the time of writing the article there is no IMDb page.


Alex. G said...

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Nice, thanks Alex, nothing new under the moon it seems :)

Alex. G said...

Yeah, coming up with original ideas these days are become more and more difficult since it seems everything has already been done.