Matthew Bourne is not only a world famous ballet choreographer; he's probably the only world famous ballet choreographer, probably because the 53-year old Londoner purposely works to make ballet accessible and exciting.
Matthew Bourne in the Ahmanson Theatre green room, Nov. 21, 2013. (John Rabe)
Bourne populated his "Swan Lake" with nearly nude men, lifted the dancing in "Mary Poppins" and brought an edge to "Edward Scissorhands." For his new production, which opens tonight in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theater and runs through the end of the month, you might say he wakes up "Sleeping Beauty."
But there were two big problems with Tchaikovsky's work. The music was great, but ...
First, "Sleeping Beauty" is associated with the classical style of ballet — "pointe work and tutus ... very grand" — that isn't Bourne's style at all. In fact, when the story fast-forwards a hundred years to today, "We're right up to date, so you have contemporary movement, you have movement that reflects now ... edgy and in your face."
Second, Bourne says the story is ... well, hold on to your dance belts, balletophiles:
"I always thought the story was a bit insipid, you know, a bit dull. The princess who gets woken up by a kiss by someone she's never met before, then they get married before you know it. There's no story, really. There's no love story, there's no tension."
So Bourne changes it up. Sleeping Beauty's boyfriend has to figure out how to be around in a hundred years when she wakes up. In 2013, that means vampires!
The New York Times didn't really like the changes, saying Tchaikovsky's "work will survive this version."
The Washington Post started skeptical, but was won over by his non-traditional, humanistic take:
Bourne’s “Sleeping Beauty” is a love story, and not just between Aurora and her gamekeeper. The true star is the human capacity for love and its eternal availability.
Bourne bucks tradition in yet another way. When I brought up my pet peeve — the way "traditionalists" scoff at people who applaud between movements of classical pieces, yet bring out the bravos for a hair-raising opera aria or astounding ballet move — he said, "It's crazy. We want people to clap, cheer, laugh, have a riotous time, get emotional; ... that's what this company's about."
"Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty" is at the Ahmanson Theatre until Dec. 1, 2013.