IoS dance review: Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty, Sadler's Wells, London

3.00

Wonderful dancers pepper Matthew Bourne's striking take on Tchaikovsky's ballet masterpiece, but it's let down by – whisper it – recorded music

Matthew Bourne is far from the first choreographer to fiddle with the story of The Sleeping Beauty. And he won't be the last, such is the draw of Tchaikovsky's radiant score and the peculiar potency of the outline plot. Good and evil, youth and age, darkness and light, and the suspended animation of a typical adolescence are themes that will always invite fresh interpretation. It's some years since a sensationalist Danish production cast Beauty as a teenage junkie, the pricking of the finger a case of hypodermic overload. Bourne, going against expectation, sticks with a poisoned rose-thorn. It's only later in the game that he gleefully plays his wild card: vampires.

In theory, this is not as outlandish as it first seems. As ever, Bourne is meticulous in his research, and has done his sums. Setting the first part of his story in 1890, the date of the original ballet's premiere, and tracking forward to Aurora's coming-of-age in 1911, when she pricks her finger and falls asleep for 100 years (handily waking up last December), it's easy to encompass the fad for all things Gothic in both the intervening fins de siècle. Bram Stoker's Dracula appeared in 1897. A century later the world's growing band of fashion-goths were buying black hair dye like there was no tomorrow.

The more pressing question is whether the Sleeping Beauty story, and Tchaikovsky's largely sunlit score, can withstand the intrusion of such a crepuscular aesthetic. The short answer is that they can't, although the ingenuity it takes from Bourne to squeeze a square peg into a round hole offers entertainment in itself. While the new Sleeping Beauty lacks both the cogent inspiration and emotional heft of his international hit Swan Lake, it benefits from Bourne's 25 years as a teller of stories. The show is tightly performed, brilliantly designed and produced, and clean as a whistle in execution. On past form alone, tickets are already becoming as hard to find as garlic in a vampire's larder.

Ever a great collaborator, Bourne has once more drawn fine work from his talented friends. Lez Brotherston's designs mark a departure from the busy wit of his sets for Swan Lake and Edward Scissorhands. For the opening he presents us with severe, late-Victorian opulence, a palace apartment of black marble and dim gold brocade, then, 21 years later, a very Rex Whistlerish picture of a garden party. Paule Constable's summer-sun lighting does the rest. Elsewhere, she goes to town on gothic shadows against a giant full moon.

The music, however, is a major disappointment, and one can only guess that Bourne had compelling reasons for pre-recording it. Does touring rule out a live orchestra on economic, or practical grounds? Patrons paying £60 a head at Sadler's Wells may feel shortchanged, still more when they clock the austerity of the casting, major players doubling in minor roles, sometimes confusingly. But to return to Tchaikovsky: at least the recording (conducted by Bourne regular, Brett Morris) is well played. Music producer Terry Davies has juggled bits of the score around, and come up with one new segment (presumably also Tchaikovsky) that to my knowledge hasn't appeared in this ballet before. But the fact remains that, despite sound designer Paul Groothuis's best efforts, the recording lacks the punch and presence of the same music played from the pit. I'd go so far as to say that it's a travesty of it.

But what of the choreography? As Bourne is certainly aware, Marius Petipa's 1890 original is regarded by ballet lovers as the pinnacle of classical dance Ω an unimprovable conjunction of form and function. By sticking with a contemporary-dance vocabulary, Bourne might have avoided odious comparisons, but he rashly strays into classical territory in the first half-hour, reeling out a set of solo variations for the kohl-eyed fairies who arrive to bestow individual gifts at the baby Aurora's cradle. The nod to Petipa's steps at this point may be in homage, but unfortunately highlights the relative clumsiness of Bourne's contemporary style.

On a more positive note, he has great fun with the time shifts presented by the story, referencing such dance crazes as the waltz (of 1890), the maxixe (of 1911) and, for his feisty, wild-child Aurora (the very lovely Ashley Shaw in the first-night cast), the barefoot, running freeform of Isadora Duncan. One of Bourne's more successful tweaks on the original scenario is that the baby princess is procured by the dark fairy Carabosse for the childless king and queen, leaving open the possibility that she was of commoner, even gypsy, birth, with an unstuffy temperament to match. There is a nice dramatic detail at the Edwardian garden party when one of Aurora's eager young admirers finds it necessary to loosen his tie at the sight of her careless display of bloomers.

Without straying into spoiler territory, it must suffice to reveal only that, as well as the vampiric element, Bourne introduces an alternative suitor, and a surprise royal baby (how prescient is that?). Dominic North is romantically convincing as the daring young palace groundsman who forms an illicit liaison with the rebellious Aurora, thus pre-empting That Kiss with plenty of exploratory ones in the royal bedroom. The baby (or babies Ω they're separated by 100 years) is represented by such a clever rod puppet that you'll believe it's alive.

Yet in making these adjustments, Bourne tampers dangerously with the dramatic arc. His Sleeping Beauty has plenty of style and incident, but it fails to connect on an emotional level. Ultimately, audiences may be moderately entertained but they won't be moved, and that does no honour to the greatest ballet score of all.

Sadler's Wells (0844 412 4300) to 26 Jan, then touring till the end of May (new-adventures.net)

Critic's Choice

Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio staged its first family Christmas show 10 years ago, and Will Tuckett’s delicate The Wind in the Willows hasn’t been bettered. Now it’s back, complete with many of its original cast, its bucolic narrative by the Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, lively designs by the Quay Brothers, and dreamy Edwardianstyle music by Martin Ward, played live. A few tickets remain – so hurry, crawl or scurry (Wed to 5 Jan).

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?