This is a guest post by Dr. Caitlin McDonald, author of ‘Global Moves:Belly Dance as an Extra/Ordinary Space to Explore Social Paradigms in Egypt and Around the World’. Caitlin blogs at http://inamerryhour.com/ and can be found on twitter @caitiewrites
Maybe I went in with my expectations too high. I’d be forgiven for doing so after reading Jem’s ZOMG BALLERINA ZOMBIES SQUEEE review posted last year. Maybe it’s that I was watching it recorded instead of live. Maybe I just like the irritable blue fairy from the Disney film version too much to accept any other version. Whatever it is, I just wasn’t that fond of Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, aired on BBC iPlayer just before Christmas. I’m going to have a jolly good time writing about it, though.
So to begin: once upon a time, a sad king and queen couldn’t have a baby. They ask an evil fairy, Carabosse, to help them. They’re very happy for about five minutes. Then while everyone’s back is turned some lovely fairies arrive to bless the little mite, including the most powerful good fairy, Count Lilac. This dance sequence, choreographed in a contemporary style that involves a lot of seemingly uncontrolled movements like appearing to fall down and suddenly recovering, pits the fairies in opposition to the staid classical forms of the palace staff (maid, governess, footman) and the King and Queen.
Then the evil fairy gets the hump about something-or-other. Her umbrage is so great that she decides to curse the child, Aurora. Carabosse, whose movements appear to be restricted by a corset, is preceded by her two furiously mobile animalesque chariot-drivers. In a dance of spite they demonstrate the future of their vengeance: a proto-Aurora, her sixteen-year-old face sheathed by a neutral mask, is whirled violently about the stage by Carabosse and her entourage, ultimately succumbing to a poisoned rose. Luckily Count Lilac is there to put the kibosh on that plan: he introduces a saviour for Aurora, the proto-palace gardener Leo. He appears to an optimistic little ditty, blessed by the good fairies before driving off future obstacles in order to rescue his would-be bride with a kiss. Count Lilac drives Carabosse off to die unhappily in exile. Then there’s some confetti. Though Count Lilac’s protection comes at a cost: there are those who wish to seek revenge for Carabosse’s defeat.
Aurora grows into a young woman. We see the maid and governess attempting to quell her wild spirit and temper her into a young lady of decorum. Aurora clearly struggles to adhere to the staid conventions of her palace life, made evident to us by her struggle to get into proper shoes instead of dancing about her room barefoot. We also see her cavorting about with the palace gardener Leo, a dalliance she has the good sense to hide from her palace minders in a sweetly choreographed little game of hide-and-seek. Then comes Aurora’s garden party where she dances with a series of bemonocled young gentlemen. With its brilliantined white summer-suitedness, this scene is like watching Aurora dance with members of the Drones Club. But I can’t possibly say anything bad about “The Garland Waltz,” which is apparently the real name for the song I know as “Once Upon a Dream” from the Disney film of Sleeping Beauty. It is a sweet, funny, frothy little number with exactly the kind of moustachioed prancing that a girl might want in her Christmas stocking.
Aurora’s capricious nature begins to show as she removes her shoes and whirls about alone, an unrestrained dance of joy that shows off her bare legs, much to the shock of the company, who indulge her at first before insisting on a return to the staid world of classical pair-dancing.
Then another gentleman arrives. He is different from the others. It turns out that this is Carabosse’s son Caradoc and he is clearly Up to No Good. Despite this he has some sort of hypnotic appeal. Caradoc and Aurora dance a magical duet together, full of graceful lifts and turns, which becomes a frightening but compelling exercise in power dynamics.
In the confusion of a sudden rainstorm the stage clears to reveal poor put-upon Leo in a funk after seeing his lady-love dancing with all the monocle-men. She, having been drenched in the storm, arrives back on the scene in her underclothing. A playful duet of reconciliation ensues. There is a naturalism and ease of movement in this duet that contrasts with the structured power of Aurora’s duet with Caradoc. Finding the poisoned rose and inhaling deeply, Aurora’s movements take on a new giddiness before she is suddenly stricken by an unnatural sleep. Upon the whole company finding them together in the garden, Aurora in a state of poisoned undress, things look bad for poor old Leo.
Then, under Count Lilac’s protection, Aurora falls asleep. In fact, everybody falls asleep for a century. Except Leo, because he’s been banished. But that’s okay, because it turns out Count Lilac is a vampire, and he bites Leo so he can stay alive through the long years he’ll need to wait for Aurora to wake again.
Then we are in the 2011. The castle has been completely overgrown by such thick rosebushes it’s no longer possible to get through the gates. Leo emerges from a tent dressed in contemporary clothes. Apparently one of the things that happens when you turn into a vampire is that you also get a conspicuous monobrow. I think a big part of my problem with this act was Leo’s new monobrow. It takes some getting used to. The first dance in this section is a random bit in the forest where Count Lilac ponces about for a bit after blindfolding Leo. The third act contains a fair old bit of blindfolding, actually. Aurora does a sleepwalk dance with three male persons who are supposed to represent—what?—palace servants? Loyal subjects of the kingdom? Fairies? This bit isn’t very clear. Leo is there as well, but just as he manages to get her blindfold off Aurora disappears and there are several more company dances by the sleepwalkers, this time blindfold-free. Leo pursues Aurora through this erratic dream forest, leaping his love all over the stage. There’s a bit of running. Then finally we arrive at Aurora’s bedchamber, where Caradoc is attempting to dance with her sleeping self, a dance that is beautiful yet distressing in its use of her unconscious body.
Various things happen. Caradoc ponces about threateningly. Leo races about in a rescuing, energetic fashion. Vampires everywhere. Aurora gets rescued. Caradoc steals her away once she’s awake, dragging her off to marry her. The reproachful look that Count Lilac gives Leo when he sees Caradoc stealing off with Aurora is priceless: there’s a definite element of “Do I have to do EVERYTHING around here?!”
Nonetheless, Count Lilac helps Leo sneak into the red-and-purple masked ball wedding of Caradoc and Aurora. Apparently Caradoc has a different definition of ‘wedding’ to most people, though, because he’s brought a showy dagger with him. There’s an insinuating little adagio where the wedding guests suspiciously examine Leo for his credentials. The sliding, off-tempo theme allows the company to create a series of tableaus, snapshots of them trying to catch him out. The bride arrives in a cobweb dress, her every sinuous move geared towards escape. Caradoc, though, is too quick and pulls her back at each turn. As she lies still on an altar, awaiting her fate, the company dances around her triumphally. At the very moment where Caradoc’s evil plan is to take fruition, Count Lilac and arrives and stabs him. The dancers whirl faster as Leo absconds with the princess.
While Lilac gets on with his little stab-fest, Leo and Aurora sidle off somewhere where he can get the embarrassing news that he’s become a vampire out of the way. Their duet is no longer one of innocent playful companionship but the joy of love lost and regained, tempered in fire. Their reward for this love is a little evil puppet-baby all their own… one that flies. The titles inform me they lived happily ever after. I’d express skepticism at this, but I don’t want to get on the wrong side of Count Lilac. He seems to have rather definite opinions about things.
 Because asking an evil fairy to give you a baby definitely seems like the way out of this problem.
 Despite the fact that the evil fairy quite clearly endows them with a demon puppet-baby.
 It’s not really clear what’s in it for the good fairies. After all, the King and Queen haven’t thanked them, either.
 The title cards just say ‘The King forgot to show his gratitude’ but they don’t exactly specify what Carabosse’s expectations were. One hesitates to speculate on this point.
 Because being an evil puppet-baby is clearly not bad enough as it is.
 This is beyond the bounds of creepiness to describe. I shudder as I type this.
 It’s like I always say: if you’re going to be evil, do it quickly. No long, drawn-out plans to poison people when they come of age. Something always goes wrong in the meantime.
 Also in neutral mask. This could be a whole episode of The Twilight Zone right here.
 Sad times.
 He looks like a cardboard cutout of a person dressed as Bela Lugosi dressed as a vampire. Better dancer, though.
 Little monocle-mans, if you prefer.
 Apparently they hadn’t invented towels yet.
 Who’s the evil fairy now?
 I note that in Jem’s review he referred to the third act as taking place in the 1990s. Apparently Jem thought Count Lilac shortchanged the court by 20 years for mysterious reasons of his own.
 This mysterious country is tragically bereft of garden shears.
 I imagine this was a rather exciting challenge for the performers.
 Just how big are these palace grounds anyway?
 Ish. Rescuedish.
 I refer to my earlier point about being evil quickly: if he’d just stabbed her when he had the chance, but nooooo…
 They look like Robin and Robin.
 Not designed for cutting the cake.
 Several times. Not just the once. He really goes for it.o
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I saw it in Edinburgh last year and loved it. I know some people felt it was very rapey, but I thought it was just beautiful.