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Leo and Aurora dancing the playful Rose Adagio duet around the garden bench.

Bourne's ballet remake a delight to watch

12/08/2016 - 05:50

THE thing about Matthew Bourne's remakes of classical ballets is that they spoil you; making it hard for you to enjoy the more staidly staged classical versions henceforth. But, oh, how much you would miss out on if you hadn't seen one of his productions.

We were fortunate to have Bourne's iconic Swan Lake with its male swans for the Dans Festival two years ago. This time around, we have Sleeping Beauty, which is his last work for the Tchaikovsky trilogy after Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.

Bourne is to classical ballet what Andrew Lloyd Webber is to musical theatre. The staging is superb and the storyline reimagined for contemporary tastes and sensibilities. Bourne is master of the fairytale he creates on stage, and Lez Brotherston's sets don't overshadow the movement- packed, innovative choreography.

The first act of Sleeping Beauty was lushly set in a romantically gothic bedroom. The storyline was quickly spelled out from the projected text on the screen, and the highlight was the fairies - in feathery, poofy skirts and smart jackets with little wings on their backs - dancing around Princess Aurora (depicted adorably by a baby doll on strings).

The early part of the story follows tradition: the king and queen can't have a baby and seek help from the dark fairy Carabosse (the imposing Adam Maskell). When the king forgets to show gratitude to Carabosse, she is angered and casts a curse on Aurora (Ashley Shaw). The fairies, led by Count Lilac (an authoritative Christopher Marney), can't overturn the spell but they can give it a better ending as he mimics to her parents - how she will fall asleep and be awakened by her true love's kiss. Carabosse dies but her son (also Maskell) carries on his mother's grudge against the royal family. He appears in Act II, when the teenaged Aurora is at a soiree on the grounds outside the Edwardian mansion, beautifully portrayed in perspective on the backdrop.

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Here is where the ensemble of dancers put forth some of the best action, with the waltzes and other couple dances borrowed from classical ballet and also American dances popular at the turn of the century. Shaw, as Aurora, was wonderfully fluid and portrayed the character of a blithe, headstrong girl well; while her beloved Leo the gardener (Dominic North) didn't seem to be a good foil for her wilfulness.

In fact, Carabosse's son Caradoc, with his long jet black hair pulled back in a ponytail and brooding expression, cut a more romantic figure. For a while, there is that dark attraction between Caradoc and Aurora as he vies for her attention, but it's clear that he doesn't succeed. Instead, Leo and Aurora dance the playful Rose Adagio duet around the garden bench. Aurora later pricks her finger on the black rose that Caradoc gives her, and falls into deep sleep. In the flurry of action, the show's first half ended with a shocker: Count Lilac, the head fairy, bites into Leo's neck and turns him into a vampire.

The second half opens in "modern" times as, after all, it's a century later. Aurora is held captive by Caradoc who tries to awaken her but fails. The highlight here is his dance with the sleeping Aurora, who looks ever graceful although she's technically a deadweight being moved around.

Caradoc lures Leo to Aurora and finally she is awakened by his kiss. Thwarted, Caradoc tries to kill them but is overcome by Leo and Count Lilac, who reappears to help the vampire lover. But with the very ordinary, insipid character Leo imbues, one wonders what would happen if indeed Aurora had broken from tradition and fallen in love with Caradoc instead - so that Sleeping Beauty ends not as a good-versus-evil tale, but a tale of the redeeming power of love.