Tchaikovsky (recorded music), Matthew Bourne
The Lowry, Salford
November 23-26, 2022, 2 hrs 10 mins
Can it really be 10 years since we first saw Matthew Bourne’s adaptation of The Sleeping Beauty here in Salford? It was brand new then, and I remember predicting it would be a hit with the ballet establishment as much as with audiences. It was.
The grandest of all classical ballets was given a make-over, with a time-travelling storyline that begins in 1890, visits an Edwardian country house party in 1911 and finally hits the present, recognisably based on the traditional fairy story but with many added twists. Bourne also cuts and pastes much of the Tchaikovsky score to suit his purposes, so the whole thing, though still in four big sections, is shorter and there’s no shapeless series of divertissement dances to end with. The set design by Lez Brotherston was brilliant in 2012 and remains so.
Bourne subtitled his version “A Gothic Romance”, and his fairies have more to them than the old tale allows: nasty old witch Carabosse has a creepily handsome son, Caradoc, the avenging rival for beautiful Princess Aurora and enemy of young hero Leo; the beneficent Lilac Fairy becomes Count Lilac, and there’s a good vampire, too. There’s a brilliant puppet baby, operated invisibly by company members, to represent the infant Aurora – pretty much stealing the show in the first act.
The thing that struck home this time was the non-stop energy in the choreography: this version doesn’t have a tottering en pointe Rose Adagio or anything else to slow down the action. It’s about young love’s dream, and its participants are youthful and ardent. That was very true of Ashley Shaw’s Aurora and Andrew Monaghan’s Leo on the first night, and the five fairies who bestow their gifts on the baby girl: Katrina Lyndon, Kurumi Kamayachi, Shoko Ito, Christopher Thomas and Stephen Murray.
There’s never a corps de ballet in Bourne’s adaptations of the classics, but he often uses his entire company to people the stage, with (in the last act here particularly) plenty of running off and running on again to give the illusion of a crowd – the famous Sleeping Beauty Waltz is staged as an anyone-for-tennis caper on the lawns of a stately home in the Edwardian episode; the Polonaise from the original third act becomes a fantasy sequence in Caradoc’s evil lair; and even the Puss in Boots and the White Cat number is recycled to advance the story-telling. (Bourne sustains the suspense by having Aurora awaked by Leo’s kiss but then stolen away by Caradoc, so we wonder if good will ever triumph over evil until very near the end).
All his dancers are also actors. That’s an important aspect of all his New Adventures shows, one that was pioneered by Christopher Gable at Northern Ballet Theatre and brilliantly magnified by Bourne – it’s good that NBT alumnus Neil Westmoreland is resident director, and Etta Murfitt is still Bourne’s associate artistic director. And lovely to see that Sophia Hurdley is in the company, too – I remember her as a stand-out student at the Dancehouse’s Northern Ballet School in Oxford Road, Manchester, long ago, and she’s a supremely versatile and celebrated performer now.
Info and tickets here