Matthew Bourne is known for surprising audiences by turning classics inside out.
And that’s exactly what he did with Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” and, with wild success, “Swan Lake.” He has now turned his attention to “The Sleeping Beauty” — a ballet adored as a classic among classics.
As seen at Proctors on Tuesday night, Bourne’s “The Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance” is nothing balletomanes could scoff at nor decry as foul as Bourne is superbly respectful of Tchaikovsky’s favorite score. Sure there are vampires and attempts at a human sacrifice, but this imaginative rendering is so stunning and creative that many moments are musical revelations — from the fairy variations to the final wedding scene.
Bourne actually enhances the fable with high drama and sweet romance while preserving its magic, but none of its innocence. He also updates it, placing it first in the Victorian era and then, when the princess awakes, in modern times. Better still, his creative partner, Lez Brotherston, produces sets and costumes that are dazzlers. Rich in detail, every scene is framed in opulence.
Proctors audiences are lucky too in that this production is the London original. The marvelous cast from Bourne’s own New Adventures ensemble features Hannah Vassallo as the young princess who is fated to prick her finger and sleep for 100 years. She’s bright-eyed and boisterous and secretly in love with Leo, the royal gamekeeper. They sneak about to steal hugs and kisses. And while he’s tall and sprightly, Leo, as danced by Dominic North, can’t keep the toxic spell, cast by the wretched witch Carabosse, from befalling his beloved Aurora.
The story begins with Aurora as a mischievous baby who roams the palace and climbs its curtains. The baby is an ingeniously animated puppet that sits up alertly as the fairies fly through her nursery, offering their blessings.
Unlike the pretty traditional fairies, these sprites are a motley lot with such names as Ardor, Feral and Tantrum. In their tattered garb, they swoon and soar sprinkling Aurora with a dash of rebelliousness.
At her coming-of-age party, the mysterious and dark Caradoc, son of the deceased Carabosse (Bourne did change the story quite a bit) injects himself into the festivities to assure his mother’s sinister wishes are fulfilled.
The gates of the palace close and the story grows ever stranger, and more intriguing. But what doesn’t waver is Bourne’s musical integrity. The rose adagio, one of the most beloved sections of “The Sleeping Beauty,” is a culminating love scene for Aurora and Leo. The blue bird pas de deux becomes the introduction of the delicate Aurora just before her near demise at the hands of Caradoc.
At every turn, from the palace grounds with the topiary and the statuary topped with fairy wings, as well as the forest where Leo has his vision of a sleeping Aurora, are rendered with grandeur and grace.
Thus, fans of the ballet and those who have never seen a ballet will enjoy Bourne’s “Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance.” It is a rousing achievement and a supremely satisfying experience.
The show runs through Sunday.