I started ballet lessons when I was seven years old. Not very long afterwards my mama took me to see some real ballet: a forgettable Russian company performing Sleeping Beauty. The company weren’t brilliant, the venue was our town’s poor excuse for a theatre (a multi-purpose room with a stage and retractable tiered seating), and we were sitting in the equivalent of the stalls (‘orchestra’ or ‘orchestra stalls’ for my American readers).
General tip for ballet watchers: don’t bother with the stalls. Sitting close to the stage doesn’t necessarily mean you get a good view. As evidenced by this first visit, when I missed the moment when Aurora pricked her finger and went to sleep, because I couldn’t see properly.
Anyway, despite those less than wonderful factors, it was still a wonderful experience, and certainly didn’t put me off ballet (either the dancing, or the watching). In the intervening 22 years I have seen ballet on three continents, watched full-length ballets, and triple-bills; modern and traditional; and danced by professionals and amateurs. But today, I got to re-visit that first experience: Sleeping Beauty with Ma. Thankfully, this experience was a vast improvement on the last.
This time was Matthew Bourne’s version of Sleeping Beauty, danced by his company, New Adventures. Matthew Bourne is basically the Tim Burton of the ballet world, and most famous for his 1995 production of Swan Lake, with it’s troupe of male swans (as seen in the final scene of Billy Elliot ). Bourne has also choreographed a version of The Nutcracker, and so this latest production gives him a 3/3 score of Tchaikovsky’s full-length ballets.
He has subtitled Sleeping Beauty as ‘A Gothic Romance’, and it really is. Stunning, and very Tim Burton-esque sets and costumes, set in three different eras (Victorian, Edwardian, and 21st Century), and with the odd vampire thrown in. It was clever, and funny, and romantic, and gripping, and I really enjoyed it.
The first half was certainly better than the second, and the choreography for the male dancers is much, much more interesting than for the female dancers. The ladies don’t wear pointe shoes, and sometimes that does mean slightly less impressive dancing; and yet, the dancing (and acting) of Aurora is excellent, and there is one scene where all the women dance in stilettos (including jumping in them) which is pretty flipping impressive by anyone’s standard.
So, if you ever have the chance, do go and see it. Genuinely excellent.
In summary: loved it.