Matthew Bourne wakes up Sleeping Beauty
British choreographer Matthew Bourne talks about waking up Sleeping Beauty at New York City Center
Thu Oct 10 2013
Time Out New York: How does she prick her finger? Is there a poisonous flower instead of a spindle?
Matthew Bourne: She pricks her finger on a rose thorn. One of the other big differences with this production is the good-versus-evil story. A lot of the stuff I read about it said that the basis of the fairy tale is a good-versus-evil plot, and you feel in the ballet that it disappears a little bit. Carabosse has this great music that’s hers and then it doesn’t really reappear; a lot of productions struggle to bring her back in, but the music doesn’t really support it. I came up with an idea for a character who’s new called Caradoc, and he’s the son of Carabosse; they’re played by the same person, and he is sort of a presence in disguise, almost like another suitor for her. So you have an evil suitor versus a good one. It keeps that good-versus-evil plot going throughout the piece and that keeps you guessing till the end.
Time Out New York: Could you elaborate on the fairies?
Matthew Bourne: We’ve invented fairies. We made up names for them, and they all have a sense of personality traits that they give Aurora, and [baby] Aurora is played by a fairly lifelike puppet in our version, so she reacts to things. The fairies come at night. They don’t come during a court section. We don’t have enough people for that, to be honest. [Laughs] We were thinking of that originally, but we said, oh, no, they visit at nighttime like the tooth fairy or something. The King and Queen leave the bedroom door open, and they know they’re going to come and leave their blessings in a way. The fairies have all got these characteristics. There’s Ardor as the Fairy of Passion, and there’s Tantrum as the Fairy of Temperament; we have Hibernia, Autumnus and Feral. It was fun making them up, and we do do solo fairy variations, which was another challenge really. They give her gifts. It’s very similar. What’s interesting is that the fairy scene, which is the prologue in the ballet—because it’s 1890, we almost present it in balletic stage manners, and then as we change the period, we’re trying to use the manners of the period, but also the stage manners of the period. So it becomes more contemporary-feeling as it goes along, but it starts off looking and feeling a little bit like a ballet; they aren’t in tutus, but they are in something that vaguely resembles a ballet costume. I think that whole thing of True Blood, when it started, was sort of a subculture of vampires, a subculture of fairies. It’s quite interesting that, as in the ballet, they’re an accepted part of the world. I found that very interesting and very helpful with this plot. They do reappear later on—they are still there, but we don’t believe in them anymore so we don’t see them.
Time Out New York: Oh, you’re kidding!
Matthew Bourne: [Laughs] They’re not allowed in anymore. It’s a little like Peter Pan.
Time Out New York: Who is Aurora to you? Didn’t you want to give her more spirit?
Matthew Bourne: In movement style, she’s a little more free. She’s a nature girl, and she resembles a young Isadora Duncan in some ways—1911 was the very beginnings of Duncan and the new spirit: a woman of the future. She seems different from everyone else, and I think that’s so right for a piece that time-travels. Although she finds herself in another world, she has the spirit of that world very early on. In my plot, she’s clearly not their daughter. You’re not sure where she’s come from, but Carabosse has arranged for them to have a child she’s obtained for them. So she could be a gypsy girl. Who knows? You don’t know. That’s why she’s a little different in many ways. She’s not truly a royal. She’s someone else.
Time Out New York: A royal is so boring anyway.
Matthew Bourne: It is, it’s sweet and boring and it doesn’t go anywhere much, so it was good to find that spirit. She has to go through quite a lot, and so does Leo, to find each other again. That’s very important and very much the basis of a lot of fairy tales. I always said from the very beginning that this is a fairy story—we’re not trying to make it ultra-logical. It’s got a fairy-tale logic, but it’s still a fairy story with fairies in it and other such magic.
Time Out New York: How much of this did you work out before you started rehearsals?
Matthew Bourne: I had a lot of workshop time in the year leading up to it. I did a few weeks; I did a two-week block and another two-week block where I got together with a smaller group and just came up with material. For example, with the fairies’ solos, we looked at the Petipa versions and used them as a starting point, and then they sort of grew out of there. I wanted to reference it in a way, because I was wanting it to feel it was coming from that place for that particular act. And so there are a few little parallels there; there are one or two little things that you might recognize. They did move further away from that as we worked on them. Yeah, so I workshopped material, and I had a lot of phrases and bits of material filmed. There were 200 phrases of movement filmed when I went into rehearsals. So then I could concentrate a little bit more on the plot and the rhythm of the evening and all the things that concern you when you’re trying to put a new piece together. It was so helpful to have worked on a lot of movement beforehand. And for that reason, it came together a lot more quickly than some of my other shows where I always want to continue working on them and look forward to the next time they’re revived so I can make big changes. But this one, for me, started to work quite quickly, and I think it was because of that preparation.
Time Out New York: Can you talk about your sleepwalking dance?
Matthew Bourne: I like to think that we’re in a place that’s full of people who can’t let go of life because they’re still in love with someone. That’s the image I give to the dancers: That they’re searching for this love that they’ve lost and they’re actually not alive anymore. They’re sort of in Edwardian underwear I guess you would say—corsets and shorts—but it’s very beautiful, and they’ve all got long hair, the men as well. They wear these long wigs, and it’s set in this strange white forest with silver birch trees, which actually comes from an image that I saw at Tchaikovsky’s house in Moscow. It’s what he used to look at while he wrote. We put that into the show, and there’s a big moon there and little lamps on the trees. It’s very beautiful. I also sent myself a bit of a challenge to choreograph that whole sequence of the vision scene, because I thought it was so beautiful. I just loved the music so much. It was nice to be able to just concentrate on an idea and explore it and have this sort of journey going through it. So I said we’re not going to cut it. We’re going to do it in the right order and we’re going to do the whole thing. So we did. [Laughs] Like it or not, there it is.
Time Out New York: What was the scariest part about choreographing Sleeping Beauty?
Matthew Bourne: In some ways, it’s the music. But in another way, the music is what makes it so easy and so great, because it gives everything you want. It makes you want to move. It makes you want to tell a story. It makes you feel things. So in some ways, it’s difficult because it’s well known and in certain courts, it’s hallowed ground. But 95 percent of the audience we play to are not familiar with the ballet in intimate detail. They know it’s a ballet, but they don’t really know it very well. And then what I’d like to do is to try to bring that music to those people and then tell a story. Everyone’s familiar with the Sleeping Beauty story in some way or another. They’ve got a vague idea what it is. I play with that. It would be easy to get very worried about how it’s viewed from a balletic viewpoint, but there are lots of versions of that around and there’s no point in me aping that in any way. I have to do my own version. I’m more relaxed these days in some ways. I said to everyone at the beginning of rehearsal, “What I want to do is the best show we can do, and if that’s all we’re thinking about then we’ll do a good job.” You can get bogged down and go, what will so-and-so think if we do this and what will…. Actually, I’m, by nature, a little bit referential. People would probably be surprised to hear that, because I don’t have that reputation really. But I’m very aware when I’m reordering something or I’m changing something and I want it to feel right. And I want it musically to work. I consult those who know more about that than me when I do that. I’m very conscious about trying to be true to Tchaikovsky as much as possible. But apart from that, I just want to give people a good evening out and hope they feel something, and I think that’s very rare in narrative ballet: to actually have tears, to have some real feeling. Hopefully, we do that. [Laughs] I hope.
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