Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
Completing New Adventure’s Tchaikovsky trilogy, Matthew Bourne’s exquisite new ballet, Sleeping Beauty, is a masterpiece of artistry, drama and beauty. Any moment of the two hour performance, frozen in time, would create a breath-taking image; the stage transformed into an enchanting dream world, plucked straight from the chimerical imagination of fantasy itself. Accompanied by the might of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score, Bourne’s spectacular choreography is brought to life by an array of highly accomplished dancers; every pointed toe and carefully placed hand guiding the contemporary narrative.
Lez Brotherston’s majestic sets ooze opulence, stunningly realistic despite their fantastical nature, and forming the backdrop to scene after scene of captivating dance. The dancers are astoundingly light on their feet, their movements accentuated by the graceful fluidity of Brotherston’s costumes, of which the sheer volume is immense, and all the more impressive given the utter splendour of them. Each one is rich in detail, powerful textures and colour schemes mirroring the shifting moods of the storyline; demure whites depicting the purity and innocence of Princess Aurora are replaced by daring reds as the dark fairy’s son, Caradoc, draws ever closer to the young princess.
Both the costumes and the dance styles are used to denote the different eras which the performance traverses. Spanning the Victorian, Edwardian and present day ages, each of the four acts utilise elements of dance distinct to the period; Act 1 features the most elements of classic ballet, with inspirations of new waltz dance crazes such as ‘the Castle walk’ and ‘the maxixe’ being introduced in Act 2, whilst Acts 3 and 4 incorporate a far more modern twist to the classical ballet style.
Despite the myriad versions of this well-known tale, Bourne manages to bring a contemporary edge, both in the setting of the second half in the present day and with a twist on the original love story. As the piece still retains some of the iconic fairy tale elements, beginning with the classic “Once upon a time” and dominated by the overarching theme of good versus evil, Bourne manages to stay true to the story’s core whilst bringing a fresh perspective to it. Although the final two acts suffer slightly in comparison to the near perfection of the first half, the romantic twist ensures the second half retains a narrative tension which could easily be lost after the weightier story of the first two acts.
A particularly forward-thinking divergence is the character of Aurora. Bourne’s recreation is a feisty, coquettish, Isadora Duncanesque wild child, unafraid to flout the wishes of her parents in favour of secret rendezvous with Leo, the royal Gamekeeper – a far cry from the helpless, fragile Disney version. Ashley Shaw plays this part to perfection, her mischievous expression melting into an angelic smile with impeccable comedic timing. Whilst the entire cast are amazing dancers, Shaw is simply superb, moving with a combination of elegance, beauty and vivacity which makes her utterly mesmerising to watch; the centrepiece in this bold and imaginative retelling of a classic.