Sleeping Beautifully with Matthew Bourne and Why it is a Must for Everyone.

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is currently staged in London at Sadler’s Well. It will then continues its UK tour through Milton Keynes, Birmingham, Glasgow, Woking, High Wycombe, Cardiff, Belfast, Bradford, Nottingham, Leicester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Liverpool, Bristol, Canterbury, Sheffield before going over to the continent to Italy and then finishing in Moscow, Russia. Phew. Quite the tour. And I’m sure that Matthew Bourne and everyone working on the show will sleep soundly by mid June, when it’s all over.

Before coming to London the show was in Edinburgh and so I called a friend who lives there and told him he must go and see it. He grumbled and muttered something about ballet and girls and that was that. He didn’t go, but in the time it was being staged there, he managed to see two football matches of teams he neither supports nor cares much about. I myself am not a ballet enthusiast: I have never seen much ballet in my life (perhaps scarred by an irritable ballet teacher telling me I must stay still and why would I not stay still when I was five) but I was lucky enough to see Bourne’s Dorian Gray in Birmingham Hippodrome three years ago. It blew my mind. I love the book and it was so fascinating to see it rendered in dance. So in a very wayward fashion I am going to justify this new show, purely on this previous performance and review that instead. So here is what I thought of Bourne’s Dorian Gray three years ago:

OSCAR Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is given a 21st century Botox in Matthew Bourne’s dance theatre. The domain of the upper-class circles of the 19th century and magnificent dinner parties is represented by the higher tier cliques of the modelling world with its dark conceited parties.

Bedazzled by the flashes, Dorian modestly rejects the modelling opportunities offered by amateur photographer, Basil Hallward, for the more glamorous commercial world hosted by a female Lord Henry Wotton. Significantly, both of Dorian’s tempters are clad in black clothes, contrasting with Dorian’s ‘pure’ white clothing, which hints at the ugly corruption of the modern world.


The physical rendition of the story is delightfully powerful. The audience are clearly able to see Dorian’s childlike narcissism at discovering his own image, which is oddly like Eve seeing herself for the first time in Mitlon’s Paradise Lost:

‘with answering looks
Of sympathie and love; there I had fixt’ (4.464-5).
From here we can see more dramatically Dorian’s destruction.

With the book’s contested morality, leading in fact to Wilde’s own prosecution, it is interesting the Bourne chooses this school of criticism to hang the his performance on. It is at this point important to see Bourne as a critique and understand that it is just Bourne’s interpretation of Wilde. Therefore the audience must not arrive with a fine tooth comb, ready to pick out difference between the two, but instead follow D. H. Lawrence’s advice to trust ourselves totally to the teller, who only uses the tale as only a compass to guide us. Yet it may provide some insight for its savvy audience.

Bourne is able to embrace Wilde’s definition of aestheticism through a rich palette of music and movement. Colour is used to heighten this collaboration and reinforce the story. Through black, white and grey, Bourne is able to show Dorian’s downfall through a mode of communication which is congenial to Wilde himself who championed art and often criticised language as a tool for communication. Wilde’s subtle toying with sexuality is made explicit and alluring in a way that only dance could do. This is even more effective with the casting of Wotton as a woman and an exciting jostling between hetero and homosexual impulses.

Without a doubt, this production shows Bourne’s success in iterpreting Wilde’s words with physical affection. The stage rotated so that there was a constant layering of drama. The dancers were breathtaking and the chorography immaculate. The whole performance was beautiful from start to finish and hold much hope for any of Bourne’s future productions. Certainly Bourne’s production merits the saying that actions speak louder than words.


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