It’s time for me to scandalise our readers by admitting that the classic Petipa/Tchaikovsky Sleeping Beauty ballet is not my favourite. Before everyone closes the website window out of disgust, I want to clarify that I do understand it’s importance in the ballet repertory, and appreciate it’s classical technical difficulties; from the famous Rose Adagio through the Bluebird. But the very thin focus on the plot really keeps me from absolutely loving it as I rarely get completely immersed in it.
This is why I decided to treat myself to ticket to New Adventures critically acclaimed twist on this classic; if Matthew Bourne’s take on this traditional ballet cannot make me love this story, there is probably no hope for me. After seeing the show at Sadler’s Wells I am delighted to report that it exceeded all expectations, and I cannot stop recommending it to friends, colleagues, random people on the street, whoever. This was such a wonderfully entertaining and unconventional evening of dance that I am confident there is something there for everyone to enjoy.
The cast list was posted on a board at the entrance to the theatre, instead of the usual printed cast sheet.
The show opens up the same year as the original ballet was choreographed in 1890, and gets off to a deliciously wicked start with thunder clapping and the baby puppet Princess Aurora crying over the familiar Tchaikovsky score. Immediately obvious that this was (thankfully) not your traditional Sleeping Beauty. The fairies here are nocturnal, and the usually effervescent Lilac Fairy is a gothic male fairy (Christopher Marney). Aurora in this version is a naughty tomboy; intent on doing her own thing including dancing through her coming of age party barefoot. Cordelia Braithwaite is a very believable Aurora, simultaneously mischievous and strong.
I love the mix of dancing used in New Adventures productions. The majority of the dancers have had years of traditional ballet training which shines through in their refined technique (those effortless pirouettes and extensions) but the production is based on much more contemporary movements with the classical technique being used as a foundation. The dancing was non stop, and in particular the partnering skill level was sky high among the dancers; they were absolutely phenomenal and all the lifts executed flawlessly.
The Rose Adagio is turned into a touching pas de deux with Aurora and Leo (Chris Trenfield), the dreamy groundsman with whom she has a secret and terribly sweet romance with. Unfortunately, though Carabosse has died at this point he has left behind a son, Caradoc, who is also infatuated with wild child Aurora. He manages to tempt her with a poisoned rose that pricks her finger and causes her to collapse. There is a horrific moment where Leo gets blamed for these shenanigans by Aurora’s family. The Lilac Fairy returns, making sure Aurora and her household fall into a deep sleep and will remain undisturbed. But as the gates close the grounds off, poor Leo is left outside! The Lilac Fairy sorts this out in the most wonderful way, which I will gloss over for those who haven’t seen the production yet.
We jump all the way to twenty-first century, and it is revealed that the now immortal Leo has been waiting for 100 years to be let into Aurora’s castle to wake her. The sleepwalking scene was full of more gorgeous dancing from the company; ethereal and dreamlike, a perfect fit to the mirrored set. A personal highlight is the dramatic red ballroom scene, where Caradoc seems to finally have his hands on Aurora. The story is resolved as everything comes full circle, including a very satisfying happily ever after.
If only all Sleeping Beautys could be as engaging and exciting as this one. A memorable take on an otherwise familiar plot with cheeky choreographic nods to the original Sleeping Beauty, combined with pitch perfect dancing and acting? Yes, please. New Adventures Sleeping Beauty is on until the 24th of January at Sadler’s Wells in London. Tickets are still available and can be booked here.