Thursday, October 3, 2013

Sleeping Beauty, PlayhouseSquare

Usually in the theater, words are king. But it is possible to tell an involving story without any spoken words, if you know how to manipulate movement in divinely expressive ways.

And that’s what director and choreographer Matthew Bourne does in his stunning New Adventures production of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, now at PlayhouseSquare. This two-act ballet tells the story of princess Aurora and her century-long catnap. But in this telling, there are gothic shadows and vampires afoot, making it feel very contemporary.

Aurora seems blessed by a happy life, but she has been cursed by the evil sorceress Carabosse. So on her 16th birthday in the early 1900s, Aurora pricks her finger and is sent into a 100-year sleep. It appears that her boyfriend, the gamekeeper Leo, will be left behind, decades-wise.

But he gets an immortality-bestowing vampire hickey from Count Lilac, setting up a confrontation between Leo and Carabosse’s brooding son Caradoc that takes place in contemporary times.

This is a luxurious production, with every scenic detail precisely executed. And although the music is recorded, that fact never detracts from the magnificent dancing on display. 

Bourne also uses a number of interesting and witty devices to enhance the proceedings. In the Prologue when Aurora is a baby, the doll is animated by black-clad puppeteers who turn the child into an amazingly adroit rugrat. The baby not only bites the shins of the adults, she even climbs the drapes at one point.

Also, several dance scenes feature slow moving conveyor belts  that carry the dancers, adding a different aspect of movement to a presentation already bursting with muscular and graceful activity.

On this night, Hannah Vassallo gave Aurora a vital and spirited interpretation, and Adam Maskell danced the dual roles of Carabosse and Caradoc with a dark and threatening aspect.

This story of good and evil, and of love, is clear in its broad strokes but many details and nuances may be missed by those not well-versed in either the story or ballet itself. And the happy ending, while pleasant, never reaches the kind of soaring, emotional climax that one might expect.

Still, that hardly matters when you are presented with a production of such skill and precision. Every movement of the dancers, from the grandest leap to the smallest twitch, is done with an exactitude that is marvelous to watch. And the eye-pleasing scenic design—which ranges from an ornate bed chamber to a misty birch tree forest to a pulsing nightclub bathed in red—keep one engaged throughout.

Sleeping Beauty
Through October 13 at PlayhouseSquare, Palace Theater, 1615 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000

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