A Revamped Beauty

A Revamped Beauty

Purists usually pout at Matthew Bourne's ballets. The British choreographer is famed for refashioning the full-length classics with new librettos and dances to match. He's set The Nutcracker in a Dickensian orphanage, Cinderella in the blitzed-out London of World War II and, most famously, refashioned Swan Lake with all the swans as muscular winged men, instead of a corps of fragile females.   Many decry this tampering with tradition; but personally, I find the results fascinating: true, dramatic storytelling via dance, with never a dull moment--something you can't always say about those old-time story ballets (admit it, balletomanes).

Dance of the Vampires--er, Fairies--in Sleeping Beauty

Bourne's production of Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance, currently at City Center, revamps the classic--literally. The fairies watching over Princess Aurora (and her prince of a suitor, who's a common lad in this version) are vampires. But in a good way. They're saviors, but scary, never letting you forget they're tinged with the supernatural. And they figure much more prominently in the plot. While he's kept the basic story (girl must be rescued from 100 years' sleep by a true love's kiss) and the lush Tchaikovsky score, Bourne has ramped up the tension, and the action: Aurora has two suitors, one good, one evil. She falls asleep in 1911, and so awakens in the present day--to a whole new set of problems. All the dancing figures into, and forwards, the theme--the fight for Aurora's soul--instead of being just a bunch of divertissements, which traditional productions of Sleeping Beauty so often disintegrate into.

All this, plus adorable puppets, gorgeous-Gothic sets and haunting sleepwalker scenes. Purists may pout, but this Sleeping Beauty is fascinating, even for those who don't love ballet. And a perfect treat for Halloween.

<< Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty, New York City Center, 131 W. 55th St., 212.581.1212, thru Nov. 3