Monday 21 May 2018

Classic is Bourne again with a gothic twist

Legendary choreographer Matthew Bourne talks about his take on the classic ballet Sleeping Beauty

Fresh look: Aurora and Caradoc in Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty, a Gothic Romance
Fresh look: Aurora and Caradoc in Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty, a Gothic Romance
Liadan Hynes

Liadan Hynes

'I think ultimately it was about someone who just wanted to be loved, who wanted to be held. And didn't have much love in his life, as a prince. And I thought, lets make him really suffer," ­Matthew Bourne laughs ­wickedly as he recalls the idea ­behind his ground-breaking production of Swan Lake, which came to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre last year. "And then he really needs these big wings wrapped round him."

Bourne, of course, cast male dancers as the swans. He was keen to tackle the piece, he says, but felt, "I was going to have to do something different enough for it to be worth doing. Also I just felt swans were male, so that kind of made sense to me. And I liked the psychological thing of a male swan and a prince. It was voices in the prince's head. It was like a part of him, the good voice and the bad voice."

Re-imagining the classics is what legendary choreographer Matthew Bourne has built his career on. "I always call it dance theatre," he says of his work. "It's dance, and it's wordless story-telling. Some of our shows have been called 'dancicals'," he laughs. Sleeping Beauty, which comes to the Bord Gáis ­Energy ­Theatre this ­November, ­became Matthew's company New Adventures' most ­popular production after its original run in 2012. But it wasn't always a given that Matthew would complete the trilogy of Tchaikovsky ballets. ­Having already tackled The Nutcracker, there was about 15 years between him ­working on Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. "I'd always said, 'I can't come up with an idea for it, it's so grand'," he says in his affable, modest manner.

The approach of the ­company's 25th anniversary focused his mind. Sitting in Tchaikovsky's house during a trip to Russia with the ­company's Cinderella, he ­decided to give it a go. ­Deciding what work to do next can be a ­pressure, he ­admits with a laugh. ­"Because I've done a lot of the ones I wanted to do."

"So I sort of made myself look into it," he recalls of the decision to look again at Sleeping Beauty. "I just started off by asking myself the question of why I didn't think it was a good story? Like the prince character waking her up after 100 years and they've never met. There's not a great love story really. I sort of applied logic to it. And came up with this story, very different from the original. It's like a time-­travelling love story."

Bourne's Sleeping Beauty opens in 1895, the year the music was written in. The next huge change is that Aurora, who is usually represented in the opening scene by an inanimate doll, is now a puppet. "I wanted to give her a personality from the beginning," smiles Matthew with obvious fondness for his creation, who he describes as a "tearaway child . . . a handful."

"People absolutely love this puppet," he continues. "When people see it in Dublin, that will be all they're talking about at the interval." The prologue, or act one, is classic ballet; act two, Aurora's coming of age, brings us up to 1911; act three is a sort of dream world; and act four is the present.

"Each of the four acts has an identity, movement wise. So you get the balletic act one. A kind of Edwardian dance craze and waltzes with act two. And then act three is more representative of Aurora as a character, in that she's quite free." Act three is a sleepwalking suite of dances with Aurora trapped in this half-life. The final scene is "a kind of dark, contemporary gestural, dynamic kind of movement. It's set in a sort of cult gathering. It all sounds very dark and you can't bring the kids, but you can," he laughs. "Some of these things I like to put in for the adults to find out, but you don't necessarily see all these things. It gives a certain depth to it."

The production overall has a gothic feel, and features vampires, a fortuitous move considering their current moment in the zeitgeist. But the Twilight movies did not inspire this production, but rather the literature of the period. He said that the year "1895 was the height of gothic literature and Dracula and all those sort of novels. So it was very much the imagination of people at that time. And I thought, you know, you are asked to accept that fairies exist in this story, a gothic tale seemed to go with that very well," Bourne explains.

Yet again Bourne has ­managed to bring something new to a much-loved ­classic. The perfect festive season ­entertainment.

Matthew Bourne's 'Sleeping Beauty, a Gothic Romance' will appear at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre from 10-14 November, see

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