Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty – Review – Bradford Alhambra

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Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty – Review

Bradford Alhambra, February 2016

by Sandra Callard

The Alhambra Theatre in Bradford is hosting Matthew Bourne’s production of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, Sleeping Beauty. With a beautiful theatre, the abundantly-talented Bourne directing and choreographing, and with the blissful music of Tchaikovsky, what’s not to love? Well, I’ll tell you – absolutely nothing. This is ballet at its superb best.

sleeping beauty ballet bradfordThe age-old tale of a king and queen seeking dark magical assistance to have a child, is here told with Gothic undertones that startle and disturb. The cast of Bourne’s New Adventures do him proud, with Dominic North and Ashley Shaw as Leo, the royal gamekeeper, and Princess Aurora, weaving a magical tale of love and youth, to the peerless accompaniment of Tchaikovsky’s score. Shaw’s exuberant and joyful dancing is breathtaking. The part where she dances blindfold demonstrates exquisite craft and performance. Not only by Shaw, but the co-dancers who guide her.

The dichotomy of beauty and horror couples with a seamless grace of hypnotic proportions. The well-known ‘wicked fairy’ is a vengeful dark being, Carabosse. She leaks evil from every pore before her son, Caradoc, who is equally evil succeeds her. Liam Mower plays both characters with a malignant passion. He dances divinely and exudes a tangible wickedness with every entrance.

“Lightness of a gazelle”

The sets are beautiful. Huge iron gates tangle with ivy. They menacingly close as Aurora begins her 100-year sleep. The stage boasts sliding floors at the rear of the stage. These give a floating appearance to the immortals. Costumes merge into Victorian, Edwardian, thirties and modern times to cover the hundred years. The unexpected appearance of modern hikers discovering the ivy-encrusted gates is a touch of genius.

Lez Brotherston is the man behind the sets and costumes. He has done a superlative job. The costumes for the fairies, both the bad and the good, are truly inspired. They are such a mixture of colour and fabric, glitz and gothic, richness and rags. They are truly a feast for the eyes.

SLEEPING BEAUTYBourne’s choreography is a masterclass of the genre, as he stretches his team to heights unknown. They leap from standing into the arms of another with the ease and lightness of a gazelle, and the fluidity and abandonment of a child. I understand that this is what ballet is all about, but to see it done to perfection, and then some, is stunning to behold.

“Amazes and delights”

The little star of the show has got to be the baby Aurora. She comes crawling onto the stage in the most realistic way possible as she runs away from her nurse. These puppet children and animals have become a part of many shows recently. Their realism is improving rapidly with each show I see. This was the best one yet. The baby sits in her cot clapping her hands as the fairies dance for her. She behaves badly when her nurse tries to feed her. Her working rods can be seen, although the puppeteer is invisible. The whole effect is completely charming.

Bourne instils something new and occasionally revolutionary into each of his productions. This Sleeping Beauty is no exception. The newness never jars. Instead it amazes and delights and brings a wonderful freshness to an old story. Tchaikovsky wrote only three complete ballets, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. With this production Bourne has completed the trilogy. It’s a magnificent salute to the great composer.

Photos:  Johan Persson

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