Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance


Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance dance production by Matthew Bourne. Music by Tchaikovsky. This is a complete rewriting by Matthew Bourne of the libretto and choreography of the classic Sleeping Beauty. Dancers include Edwin Ray (King Benedict), Kerry Biggin (Queen Eleanor), Hannah Vassallo (Princess Aurora), Dominic North (Leo), Christopher Marney (Count Lilac), Adam Maskell (Carabosse/Caradoc), Mari Kamata (Ardor), Katy Lowenhoff (Hibernia), Joe Walkling (Autumnus), Sophia Hurdley (Feral), Liam Mower (Tantrum), Daniel Collins (Lord Rupert), Danny Reubens (Viscount Aubrey), Daisy May Kemp (Miss Maddox), Nicole Kabera (Flossie), Leon Moran (Archie), and Luke Murphy (Bertie) with Pia Driver, Phil Jack Gardner, Tom Jackson Greaves, Kate Lyons, Ashley Shaw and Chris Trenfield. Brett Morris conducts The Sleeping Beauty Orchestra (Leader Gina McCormack).  Sets and costumes by Lez Brotherston; lighting by Paule Constable; sound design by Paul Groothuis. Associate Director was Etta Murfitt; Associate Choreographer was Christopher Marney; Music Producer was Terry Davies. Directed for TV by Ross MacGibbon; Executive Producers were Todd Austin  and Robert Noble. Producer was Fiona Morris. The dance theater (Bourne's term) runs 158 minutes; there is also a bonus documentary that runs 52 minutes called Imagine---A Beauty is Born: Matthew Bourne's 'Sleeping Beauty'. The keepcase booklet has an especially nice discussion of the piece by Bourne (English only). Released 2013, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound.

This new Bourne work played on stage starting December 2012 in London, and then went on tour.  Robert Greskovic, perhaps the best-known dance critic in the U.S., saw this live in October 2013 in New York. He wrote a favorable review in the Wall Street Journal on October 30 stating that this Sleeping Beauty is "a prime example of the British choreographer's imagination and originality."

Deutsche Grammophon published this, and they limit their brand (we always thought) strictly to fine-art material.  Still, it appears this is being marketed not as a fine-arts title, but as a fantasy movie. There was initially something wild and crazy about the pricing of this product. So shop around. Grade: B+

After Bourne worked out his new book for Sleeping Beauty, he used cut-and-paste to rearrange the Tchaikovsky score to fit. The music is all very familiar, but put together in new and even startling ways. This show is designed to tour. Bourne would be risking all manner of disasters to give his revised score to ballet orchestras in the field to play with little to no rehearsal time. So the "Sleeping Beauty Orchestra" was assembled to carefully rehearse this and record it perfectly to match Bourne's libretto. The result is canned music designed to be played on usually lousy sound systems in theaters around the world. This is also the music you get on the HDVD---it reminds one a bit of the recordings of classical music folks used to buy at the grocery store or from Reader's Digest Magazine. Get over it and enjoy the show, which has 4 Acts.

Act 1 ---  1890: The Aurora Baby

Bourne is always looking for clever new ways to entertain. Here he opens with a highly precocious puppet baby. In the documentary extra feature you see how how much work goes into this. Up to 3 men standing almost on the same spot and working from blackout suits make the baby look real (five babies with different expressions are deployed). The Aurora baby has the same feisty and rambunctious personality that Aurora the young woman will have. So you have a show-stopper almost before the show gets going:


Fairies come to honor the new royal child. But these guests (intruders actually) are vampires. You can tell they are vampires because they have black eyes and little winglets. Here is Count Lilac (Christopher Marney). He is a male version of Tchaikovsky's Lilac Fairy who will watch over Aurora and eventually save her:


The fairies have elaborate names, but we don't know how to tell them apart. Here are two solos that expert ballet fans can, I suspect, easily relate to particular Tchaikovsky-era fairies.


The "dark fairy" Carabosse (Adam Maskell in drag) intrudes on the intruders. Carabosse brought Aurora to the King and Queen as a foundling. But since then the royals have snubbed Carabosse, who wants revenge. Carabosse says that Aurora must die after pricking her finger, but Count Lilac overrules this. On pricking her finger, Aurora will not die, but go to sleep for 100 years, etc.

Act 2 ---  1911: Aurora Comes of Age

Now we are at Aurora's 21st birthday party where many suitors are invited:

Carefree Aurora scandalizes everyone (except the suitors)  by showing her bloomers:

Sometime ago Carabosse slipped up and let someone drove a stake thru her heart. But she is survived by her son, Caradoc (also played by Christopher Marney). Caradoc is ablaze with a lust to avenge his mother. Like all vampires, he can wash his face and conceal this winglets when necessary. Here he crashes the birthday party wearing a black rose (with prickly thorns). He makes a big impression on Aurora and leaves the rose where Aurora can find it later:

The party is over. Aurora is secretly in love with Leo (Dominic North), the royal gamekeeper, and they get a few precious moments together.  Bourne's signature style is to combine natural movements (often invented by the dancers themselves) with classical steps to tell a story. A wonderful example of this is the long first-true-love-horseplay pas de deux which follows but which is almost impossible to catch in screenshots:

But the frolic of the young lovers ends when Aurora finds the black rose and pricks her finger:

So Aurora goes to sleep for 100 years. What's poor Leo to do? He needs eternal life, which is hard to come by. But when Count Lilac appears, Leo figures it out:

Act 3 ---  2011: Aurora Wakes Up

Many decades go by and tourists still visit the gate to the ruined palace to remember the legend of the sleeping beauty:

And still in her bed awaits Aurora:


With Caradoc sitting with her waiting for the tolling of 100 years:

Aurora sees sees Leo coming for her in her dreams:

Until, one day Leo finally arrives. But the moment after he kisses Aurora, Caradoc abducts her!

Act 4 ---  Yesterday: Aurora's Wedding

Aurora and Caradoc will wed at an orgy in a Las Vegas-style chapel. Count Lilac and Leo sneak in. Below evil fairies try to seduce Leo. The music used for this scene is the playful "Puss and Boots" music from the Tchaikovsky wedding divertissement. It's impressive how well the old music fits this contemporary scene:

Aurora is led to the alter:

The groom, now showing his true nature, will consummate the union with a blade:

But Count Lilac and Leo intercede and defeat Caradoc:

The true lovers unite. Still, this is not the end of the show. To find out what happens next, you have to see this on tour or buy the HDVD, which you can easily do by clicking on the amazon button below: