Sunday, 30 December 2012

A discomforting fairy tale at Christmas

I went to the Ballet recently - a post Christmas treat.

It was Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty, an adaptation which brings to completion his reworking of all three of Tchaikovsky's great ballets (Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty).

He has admitted that Sleeping Beauty was the hardest to adapt
owing to its less than exciting plot line and lack of dramatic tension between the two lovers, i.e. in the original tale they don't meet until the Prince discovers the castle behind the overgrown brambles and happens upon the sleeping princess, waking her with a kiss. Can you fall in love with someone you have never communicated with?

The evil Caradoc leads Princess Aurora towards a devilish wedding 
To add spice, therefore, Bourne's Sleeping Beauty falls in love with her Royal Gamekeeper before being overcome by the 100 year slumber, giving her a primary reason to wake up. Her lover must then be immortalized in order to last out the 100 years too (a vampiric 'kiss' from the male 'Lilac fairy' achieves this).

To further increase the tension, the pricking of the royal finger is brought about not by a spindle but by the tempting advances of another, much more sinister suitor, in the person of Caradoc, the evil son of the original dark fairy. Princess Aurora loves the Gamekeeper, but this new raven haired man is a smooth, sophisticated, intoxicating tempter. It is the thorn from his black rose which causes her to sleep and it is he who first awakens her and leads her terrifyingly towards a 'wedding'/sacrifice at his murderous hands before the happier denouement with the Gamekeeper eventually takes place. As a young, inexperienced girl on the threshold of womanhood she faces the Adam and Eve-like dichotomy of good and evil and the apparent excitement of the forbidden.

Re-writing stories is what artists do, whether ballet, Shakespeare or film adaptations. We want the original truth to survive, of course - the Princess must be essentially good and her successful suitor a man of noble heart. There must be good and evil and good must triumph eventually. The details - mood, atmosphere and style, however - are up for grabs.

And the style is decidedly Gothic. Crimson and black roses; a discomforting, sensuous pas de deux with a bad man and a sleeping girl; a mock wedding with hints of S&M; blindfolds (they're all asleep you see...) it's all going on...

It's about those ancient tropes of fairy tales whose power lies in the resonances within our subconscious. A Christening - every parent has dreams for their baby; how will she turn out? Our progeny carry 'the hopes and fears of all the years'. Will life be blessed or cursed? Our first parents were 'pricked' with the bite from an apple; they did not die; they 'slept' outside the garden of life until Jesus Christ the Apple Tree bought the way back.

Sleeping Beauty, then; a tale of coming of age; romance, sex (Chaucer employed that reference  to 'pricking' widely and gleefully); awareness (you can 'slumber' in more ways than one, as Jesus knew); magic; healing; awakening; resurrection.

There's nothing as bodily in all the arts, as dance. For good or ill you remember your humanity when you watch dance. Every emotion is communicated through the body; there's no hiding. We are for ever embodied, subconscious and all. And we are shaped and defined by the truths of our ancient shared stories. Re-telling them with freshness and provocation is an art rightly to be celebrated.

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