Matthew Bourne’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ brings sinister magic to the fairy tale

Beware the uninvited guest is the moral to “Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty” ballet. Bourne updates this fairy tale, bring some logic while dragging it into the Twilight zone of vampires. If you missed this sumptuous romance on tour, you can see it Friday night on PBS (Check local listings).

Bourne has come up with a version vastly different from the Brothers Grimm’s “Little Briar Rose” and from Perrault’s original story. You expect a slight twisting of the story with Bourne and Bourne’s production taps into the steampunk craze. The story begins in 1890, when the Tchaikovsky ballet with choreography by Marius Petipa debuted. This is the tail end of the Victorian era.

Bourne’s version still has a Princess Aurore and Tchaikovsky’s music, but this princess just doesn’t fall for the first guy who kisses her. Bourne has given this love story a back story, inspired, according to the program notes for last year’s performance at the Ahmanson in Los Angeles, Disney. The love story between the prince and Aurora is unconvincing and Disney in the 1959 animated feature had the prince and Aurora meet and fall in love before she falls into her long slumber.

In Bourne’s version, Aurora’s parents King Benedict (Edwin Ray) and Queen Eleanor (Kerry Biggin) go to the dark side to provide the kingdom with an heir. If you’re going to mess with black magic, you have to remember to thank the evil people. At the christening Carabosse (Adam Maskell) show up uninvited and curses the infant, but the fairy Lilac softens the curse. That’s no fairy. This Lilac is a count in the manner of Count Dracula. Christopher Marney’s count is darkly handsome and heroic.

Skipping over the dull childhood and adolescence of Aurora, we pick up with a 21-year-old Princess and we’re in the Edwardian era.

In Bourne’s version, a young teen Aurora is falling in love with her childhood sweetheart, Leo, when she pricks her finger on a black rose and falls into a 100 year slumber. How will Leo be able to meet with his love after 100 years? By becoming a vampire. Why not? Vampires co-existed with fairies in European folklore.  The fairy who gives the curse is Carabosse and his son Caradoc also appears.

What you also see is the kind of dances that were popular during those times. Act II has the waltz, but the choreography also alludes to American dance crazes of the time such as the Castle Walk introduced by British-born Vernon and American-born Irene Castle. The Castles introduced the Hesitation Waltz in the 1910s (Vernon fought in World War I and died in 1918 in an airplane accident in Texas). Aurora’s dancing in Act III is inspired by Isadora Duncan (1877-1927).

The “Great Performances: Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty” is the next best thing to attending a live performance and the program includes a brief interview with Bourne. The camera keeps you from being distracted and also gives you more time to admire the amazing number of costumes designed by Lez Brotherston, all worthy inspirations for cosplay and steampunk tributes.

Hanna Vassallo’s Princess Aurora rises after the infant puppet has been retired and provides the youthful excitement and the blush of first romance. Her Aurora is mischievous and flirty. After 100 years though she awakens and becomes the object of a love triangle that ends well, if living in the eternal night is a happy ending.

As her love interest Leo, Dominic North provides the earnest determination and they pair well together. He’s not a prince by birth, but by merit, a commoner whose deep love leads him on a long journey to save his beloved.

“Great Performances: Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty” premiere on TV Friday night , 18 April 2014, on PBS at 9 p.m.  (Check local listings). After that, it should be available online.



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