We are so used to the Disney versions of our traditional fairytales that we forget they come from a dark place. Tales of babies being cursed at birth, young women being locked away or made to sleep for 100 years. I am, it has to be said not a natural lover of ballet. I sometimes find it a little sterile for my personal tastes, however there is something about Matthew Bourne’s productions that I absolutely adore.
The theatre is plunged into darkness, a crack of thunder sounds and the menacing outline of Carabosse appears, played superbly by Adam Maskell. This is a lavish production, a return to the gothic roots of this fairytale. Bourne takes us on a journey from 1890 ( the year this ballet was first performed) through to the present day. It’s a twisting turning adventure through a dark ride. From the birth of the baby Aurora and her subsequent spiriting away to an underworld where she sleeps for 100 years, everything is beautifully choreographed. There is not one wasted movement. The thing I particularly love about this production is that the stripping away of some of the traditional elements of ballet puts the dancer’s skills totally in the spotlight. I can see the muscular physicality of their movements, the sheer hard work of their effortlessness, the way they communicate with every single part of their bodies. It is a stunning feast of dance and the dancers themselves are superb. The title role is played with elegance and power by Ashley Shaw and having watched her on stage I can only be excited at the prospect of her taking the lead in Bourne’s next production The Red Shoes which will be coming to the Wales Millennium Centre in 2017. Ashley is more than ably supported by Dominic North as Leo and Christopher Marney as Count Lilac together with a cast of exquisite dancers.
This stunning production uses a lush opulent set design to convey a dark gothic Victorian age and an Edwardian garden party before thrusting us into a stark underworld and a sinister costume ball. The use of puppetry for the baby Aurora is a stroke of genius introducing some lighter notes of comedy at the beginning of the ballet before unleashing a duel between the fairy kingdoms with a vampire thrown in for good measure all swept along by Tchaikovsky’s score. The whole production is a wonderful spectacle returning the tale of Sleeping Beauty to the place it truly belongs.