Michael Bourne subtitles his dance to Tchaikovsky’s SLEEPING BEAUTY – “A Gothic Romance.” He turns the tale, first told by Perrault, then by brothers Grimm, later by Petipa as choreographer, and yet again by Disney, into a vampire love story set around the fin de siècle. This is not completely inappropriate. An overlap may be legitimately discerned between fairy tales and horror stories (the former are reifications of infant nightmares); and on the plane of story motifs, there is not that much difference between the kiss that awakens the sleeper and the bat bite that transforms life into undeath; or, for that matter, between the rose thorn and the vampire’s fangs. There is even something in this complex of images that calls to mind the feigned deaths and burials of ROMEO AND JULIET, or the love-in-death of TRISTAN AND ISOLDE. It is, moreover, the week of Halloween, and so Bourne’s outré interpretation makes City Center’s scheduling of the show suitable to the season.
All this is to imply that, although I hesitate to wholeheartedly embrace Bourne’s SLEEPING BEAUTY, imported from his New Adventures company in England, it is eminently watchable and not without substance. The cast is headed, for one thing, by Hannah Vasallo as Aurora, who becomes, upon being pricked, the Sleeping Beauty. She has in her dancing a sense of passionate abandonment that persists, paradoxically, even when she is in a state of trance, sleep, or drowsiness.
The dancing in general I would describe not as ballet, exactly, but as balletic. I think that I am correct that there is not an instance of pointe work to be seen, but there are, nonetheless, many recognizable figures, particularly the one known as “attitude,” from the classical vocabulary. The movement patterns become a bit muddled after the intermission, when the vampire theme emerges, in a not fully consistent way, from the more traditional telling of the story that dominates the first half. There is some interesting gender bending to enjoy, particularly in the casting of a man – in extravagant drag – as Carabosse, the Dark Fairy who first lays the curse.
The music appears to have been recorded especially for this production, whether just for the tour or also for the show in England I do not know. In either case, it is a loss not to have live music to accompany this sort of piece; that the economics of the arts probably required that it be recorded does not take away from the lack of interplay between orchestra and performer; the effect is more of a show to a soundtrack than of unified artistry. Still, the applause at the curtain call was deserved, especially by the dancers, and I accepted this Halloween appropriate SLEEPING BEAUTY for what it was, grateful that it never pretended to be anything more, or less.