‘Sleeping Beauty’: a Gothic Take on a Ballet Classic

Everyone knows about three of the most famous ballets in the world—“The Nutcracker,” “Swan Lake” and “Sleeping Beauty,” all of which are set to the gorgeous, astonishing music of Pyotr Tchaikovsky and are 19th-century dance and music creations of surpassing magic.

Now, “Sleeping Beauty” is at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House Nov. 12 through 17, but it is not just Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty.”

It is now squarely “Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty,” which is to say that it is the work of the renowned, very cool and very different British choreographer and his New Adventures company, which returns with memories of his 2007 visit with his dance version of “Edward Scissorhands” still fresh in the minds and imaginations of those who saw it.

Bourne, a former dancer, set out on his own to create and re-create different, stranger and all the while more accessible versions of classics—his “Swan Lake” featured all-male swans and his “Nutcracker!” with the exclamation point promised renewed energy. Bourne’s “Sleeping Beauty” is right on time in the age where our interest in all matters romantic and gothic, including the undead and vampires, seems never quite to peak, what with a new “Dracula” a hit on network television.

“Sleeping Beauty”, with its fairy tale of the princess who, along with her kingdom, is put under a spell that puts everything to sleep for years and years, only to be awakened by the kiss of a prince, seems in the telling, an old children’s tale, romantic but also, well, a little sleepy. But Bourne, never shy about changing things, has set his version—still with the great music—in the fin-de-siecle turn of the 19th into the 20th century, when interests in fairies and vampires, and gothic horror tales were the passion of high-style Europeans, to begin with. Bourne’s version moves through time, from fin-de-siecle, through the Edwardian age until Princess Aurora wakes up more or less in our present day.

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