The Sleeping Beauty, Sadler’s Wells, London

The Sleeping Beauty is, I believe, the greatest of ballet’s masterpieces. In 1890, Marius Petipa, its choreographer – just into his seventies – had reached a creative pinnacle and had guided the Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg to its highest point. Tchaikovsky, at his most assured, produced a score of exquisitely wrought dramatic nuance and unfailing melodic grace. The Petersburg troupe was of exceptional brilliancy. The resultant masterpiece at the Mariinsky Theatre has, since then, exacted the most rigorous performance from its dancers and producers, ever aware of what this Everest demands if its ferocious challenges are to be accepted.

And now, along comes Matthew Bourne, intent upon staging this work, which will complete his Tchaikovsky trilogy, a companion to his jolly Victorian orphanage Nutcracker and his cunningly anarchic Swan Lake with its male swans, which I suspect are the homo-erotic reason for bothering with the staging. I found this Sleeping Beauty, at Sadler’s Wells until the end of January, very tiresome indeed. It has clever design by Lez Brotherston, uses a loud and crassly trimmed account of the score, and proposes a modernised narrative tediously complex and superficial, one that Bourne has nailed onto his score with a singular lack of finesse or sensitivity. I found the event confused, irritating, an act of sabotage.

The dance manner is ever-vigorous, over-vigorous, the dramatic means blatant, the eager cast’s performances unfailingly energetic and, through some weird alchemy, unfailingly inexpressive. In a helter-skelter rush from the prologue (set in 1890, the year of the Petipa/Tchaikovsky original) an assortment of emotional crises comes and inexplicably goes, and the cast rush about as Tchaikovsky comes and truncatedly goes. There are admirable design ideas, a super-loathsome puppet baby Aurora, characterisations distinguished by their vivacity but little else, and a resistible older Aurora. There are tiny hints at Petipa, hat-tippings to Tchaikovsky’s exquisitely detailed music-drama.

Bourne’s leaden-footed muse guides matters determinedly on the path of lumpen inadequacy and adagio-dance exertions. A great masterpiece lies brutalised out of recognition in Rosebery Avenue. My two stars are awarded for the devotion to duty of the cast.

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