Review: In ‘Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty,’ imagination awakes

Matthew Bourne’s delirious remake of “The Sleeping Beauty,” which opened Thursday at the Ahmanson Theatre, managed to leapfrog through time as magically as other major productions while remaining uniquely contemporary in look and sensibility.

Yes, Bourne paid tribute to the revered 1890 Marius Petipa original — even daring to develop Petipa’s movement motifs and stage effects. But Bourne’s Princess Aurora represented no icon of classical purity, rather a willful, hyperactive Disney princess with a proletarian boyfriend like the one in “Tangled.” And the new twist on her awakening from 100 years of slumber owed more to such films as “Enchanted” and “Snow White and the Huntsman” than the classic Perrault fairy tale.

In films and on television, vampires are now considered not only impossibly sexy but worthy partners in relationships with mortals — and Bourne’s “Beauty” exploited our lust for the undead in surprising, resourceful ways. What’s more, he gave the evil Carabosse a son — Caradoc — who joins the roster of unforgettable Bourne Bad Boys stretching back to his Black Swan 18 years ago.


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Not counting musical comedies and repeat engagements, “Sleeping Beauty” is the seventh full-length Bourne dance drama seen on local stages — an unprecedented achievement for a living choreographer.

As with “Beauty” at the Ahmanson — which ends on Dec. 1 — most of those engagements were extended runs, unlike the three or four performances that ballet companies usually devote to their narrative rep in Southern California. That means his gloriously impure style of movement theater makes the case for dance expression to a large local audience in a way that only touring Broadway dance-musicals can surpass.

Subtitled “A Gothic Romance,” this “Beauty” was Bourne’s third Tchaikovsky project and, like many so-called traditional stagings, he cut and sometimes re-sequenced the music. He also, unfortunately, layered sound effects on top of it and occasionally destroyed its sustained flow with hectic, disruptive action. (Brett Morris conducted the recorded score.)

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Bourne’s last act (normally a plotless wedding celebration) displayed the best of his musicality, creating a world of reckless hedonism in which the imminent forced union of Aurora and Caradoc seemed only one example of the societal nastiness on view.

In this and other priorities, Bourne was superbly aided by the settings (alternately sumptuous, airy, spare and oppressive) by his longtime collaborator Lez Brotherston. In addition, Brotherston’s costumes not only gave the principals a distinctive profile but often revealed secrets about their inner natures.

Because this production is double- (and sometimes triple-) cast, the dancers at any given performance may well be different than the Thursday lineup. But Bourne’s 24-member New Adventures company remained so unfailingly skillful, energetic and well matched that it would be worth your time to check the cast board in the lobby to know exactly who you’re seeing. (The program booklet merely lists all the possibilities.)

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On Thursday Hannah Vassallo and Dominic North played the sunny, tomboyish Aurora and her devoted swain Leo, soaring effortlessly through the complex, fluid love duets. Christopher Marney proved commanding and deceptively benign as the Lilac Fairy (here envisioned as Count Lilac) and Adam Maskell scored strongly in the deadly, charismatic roles of Carabosse and Caradoc. Clever puppetry made the infant Aurora an uproarious addition to the cast — and an index to the bold comic emphasis of Bourne’s approach.

You could argue that his gift for comedy had meshed with Tchaikovsky more artfully in his “Swan Lake” and “Nutcracker,” that comedy flourished there primarily in passages of relatively diversionary music. In those works he made you hear an overfamiliar score differently — through his ears. That doesn’t happen this time except in the re-imagined last act. But there’s no denying the freshness, excitement and brilliant theatrical invention along the way.


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“Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty,” Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A. Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday at 8 p.m.; Nov. 29 and 30 at 2 and 8 p.m.; Dec. 1 at 1 and 6:30 p.m. $20-$125. (213) 972-4400 or,