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‘Sleeping Beauty’ is must-see production

10/10/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

Matthew Bourne’s “Sleeping Beauty” is on stage at the Palace Theatre through Oct. 13.
Photo: Simon Annand
CLEVELAND — It was a grand night in more ways than one Oct. 2 at the performance of Matthew Bourne’s “Sleeping Beauty” at the Palace Theatre at PlayhouseSquare, where the astonishingly conceived and produced story ballet will be playing through Oct. 13. If you haven’t purchased tickets yet, there’s still time to see this show.

There were some snafus with lighting effects, as some narrative elements were to be displayed in a grid across the proscenium. They either didn’t come through or were haltingly incomplete. But that was the only foible in an otherwise magnificently created and danced ballet.

Bourne, who created and choreographed the ballet, reworked the plot — both to fit his understanding of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s brilliant musical score and to give some underlying logic and credibility to the fairy tale being told. For instance, Princess Aurora generally didn’t know her prince but was awakened 100 years from a deep sleep from a spell put on her and knew him instantly. That begs some questions, but so does having the prince, who is presumably human, survive that long and look the same after all those years.

Bourne adds further fantastic elements to the fairy world already abounding in the narrative. He brings in elements of vampirism and zombie-ism and thereby makes the tale understandable, reasonable and even more imaginary at the same time. And, to let the audience get it that it is a world of fantasy, Bourne presents the baby Aurora through puppetry. It works (sometimes amusingly so), and the female lead character is established as a feisty, playfully willful young woman, a trait that works for the dancer as Aurora comes of age.

Bourne does an incredible job of letting the musical score tell the tale, even when it means re-envisioning sections of the music. As an example, the usual sweet and musical section for the familiar pas de deux between the prince and princess becomes in his hands a kind of lulling seduction scene for the bad fairy who is to put a spell on Aurora. The music seems to be working, but ends with a clanging section where Aurora doesn’t fall for it.

Similarly, since the prince and princess are young, Bourne uses sections of the music that are zesty, lusty even and playfully fast to underline the passion of the couple as they begin to fall in love.

The dancer characters become, in a fascinating way, like members of the orchestra, acting out the music as it reveals the drama of the story. The result is that the audience not only cannot get lost in the story, but feels through hearing the music and seeing the physically revealing movement of the dancers the strong emotions at play as the tale unfolds.

The dancers in this “Sleeping Beauty” are both gifted dancers and actors.

The costumes in the production are wonderfully conceived as well. They have to cover 110 years (1890 when Aurora is presumably born, 1911 when she comes of age and 2011 when she is awakened from the spell). The designs match the periods presented (while the choreography does as well, including some nods to famous dancers Vernon and Irene Castle and their ballroom, ragtime and jazz dances through the funky, hip-hop style of a few years ago.)

If one cannot tell by all the comments thus far, Bourne’s “Sleeping Beauty” is a stage winner and is to be seen.

Tickets are available at the PlayhouseSquare Ticket Office, www.playhousesquare.org or by calling 216-241-6000.


Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and board director of the Dance Critics Association. To contact him, email r.durbin@sbcglobal.net.

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