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Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty review

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Legendary choreographer Sir Michael Bourne is the creative mastermind behind the New Adventures dance company: a ballet and contemporary dance troupe that is famed for its spectacular theatrical productions. Starting out as Adventures in Motion Pictures (AMP) in 1987, New Adventures received its current name in 2001 after Bourne joined forces with producer Robert Noble. Over the years the company has been the recipient of various awards, including several Oliviers, so it is fair to say that the dance company’s reputation is second to none. You can imagine my excitement when I received an invitation to attend the press night of their latest touring production ‘Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty’ which was stopping in Canterbury for a week. A dance masterpiece that is celebrating its 10 year anniversary, Sleeping Beauty is my first experience of New Adventures’ work and wow, is it enchanting.

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty on The Marlowe Theatre season schedule

A gothic fairytale

Drawing inspiration from the Brothers Grimm and early versions of Sleeping Beauty fairy tales, Matthew Bourne’s adaptation takes the renowned story and turns it on its head, giving the tale a gothic twist. Choreographed to Tchaikovsky’s incomparable score, Bourne’s piece of dance theatre is set in 1890 which rather appropriately also happens to be when the composer’s own ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ opened. An homage to the late 19th-century ballet with various plot, character and setting changes, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty transports viewers into a whole new fantasy world, filled with fairies and vampires.

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty programme in The Marlowe Theatre auditorium, Canterbury

Precision and synchronicity

The New Adventures dancers are masters at their craft, applying precision and care to every step. I know very little about classical ballet so cannot pass judgement on the details of the choreography itself, but when you think about the number of company members in New Adventures, it is admirable how such a large group is able to perform as one on stage. The company’s exquisite timing and synchronicity make every routine amazing to watch.

Cordelia Braithwaite played Aurora at the press performance and their partner work was spectacular. The lead role dances with various different suitors during act two and Braithwaite manages to bring something unique to each partnership. You are also instantly drawn to their energy and charismatic portrayal of the character, expressed through playful dance steps.

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty leaflet outside The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Musical score and Disney influences

It has been years since I watched Disney’s animated Sleeping Beauty so I was completely taken aback to hear the tune for ‘Once Upon A Dream’ during Aurora’s birthday celebration. I have now found out that the song is based on ‘Grande valse villageoise’ from the 1890 ballet and Tchaikovsky’s music inspired the soundtrack for the animated feature. The dancers practically glided across the stage during Bourne’s choreography and it took me back to the elegance of the magical dance scene at the end of the film. The combination of the composer’s beautiful melodies and Bourne’s bespoke movements are a match made in heaven.

The programme for Sleeping Beauty features an interview with the choreographer and in it he talks about the depth of the animated film. The same can be said for this piece of theatre, it is full of drama, romance and incredible dancing, providing audiences with a rollercoaster retelling of the classic fairytale. Like the animated classic, this adaptation has plenty of tension on stage and each of the characters have weight.

The cast board for Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Vampires in Sleeping Beauty?

Whilst it is a creative decision to give Sleeping Beauty a gothic makeover, at times I found it a little difficult to work out the significance of the vampire characters to the story. The fairies are introduced early on in the production, but they are far from the Fauna, Flora and Merryweather of the Disney film understandably. Gothic influences can be seen in the darker colours of the costumes, black tights and enigmatic eye masks.

Without giving away any spoilers, the importance of vampires can be better understood later in the production, but the fairy visuals overpower the other supernatural references. If it wasn’t for the closing scene at the end of act one, I would have been at risk of not picking up on the subtlety of the vampires. Perhaps there could have been minor adjustments to the costumes to make these aspects clearer for spectators, given that the gothic undertones of the piece drive Bourne’s narrative.

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty poster outside The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

So much more than just a dance show!

I tried to stay relatively spoiler free ahead of the performance and in doing so, was under the impression that I would be heading into a masterclass in dance. Whilst this was very much the case, the show had many different elements to it that I was not expecting, including puppetry, humour and exquisite period costumes.

The first act follows the Royal Family during the late 19th century and opulence can be seen in every detail, from the rich-coloured drapery to the extravagant architecture. Lez Brotherston’s designs encapsulate the grandeur of royal life, whilst at the same time showcasing the essence of the time period. The same can also be said for the fairy and enchanting scenes in later acts, where ‘moonlight’ and pastel hue lighting is used by lighting designer Paule Constable to generate a dreamy effect on stage. Overall the production’s visual design team have done a fantastic job recreating historical periods and intertwining it with mythology and folklore.

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty curtain call at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Final thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty* and am now inspired to see more of New Adventures’ work. The production is on tour until April, moving on from The Marlowe Theatre on Sunday 26th March. If you’ve ever been intrigued by ballet but were unsure if it was too formal for your taste, I recommend purchasing last minute tickets to Sleeping Beauty from the theatre’s website. Bourne’s theatrical ballet is contemporary and very different to the high society perception of a traditional ballet visit. The amount of depth to the production helps the show appeal to a wider audience.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Love Kat xxxx

*My ticket for Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty was gifted in exchange for a review of the production.



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