SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — At first glance it might seem unusual for “Sleeping Beauty” to be part of Proctors Theatre’s Broadway Series. This production is ballet, not Broadway musical.
But if you look closely at the title of the ballet, which opens Tuesday and runs through Sunday, you’ll see the full title is not “Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty.” Instead it is billed as “Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty” and that explains a lot.
Bourne’s name attached to “Sleeping Beauty” signifies that this is an entirely new theatrical version of the 1890 classic. The production promises to be a work that will thrill lovers of classical dance as well as be a treat for those who love the drama and beauty of theater.
The innovative Bourne is, arguably, the most successful choreographer of our era. He’s a modern legend in ballet having directed and choreographed acclaimed productions of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker” as well as creating the cutting- edge ballet “Edward Scissorhands.”
As for Broadway credits, in 1999 he won the Tony Award for Best Director and Best Choreographer for “Swan Lake.” In 2007 he won another Tony as Best Choreographer for the traditional musical “Mary Poppins.”
Once Bourne completes the creative process of putting the show up, it is placed in the hands of a resident director, whose job it is to make sure the performances remain faithful to Bourne’s vision. Or, as Neil Westmoreland, the resident director of the “Sleeping Beauty” tour says, “my job is to keep Matthew happy.”
In order to accomplish this task Westmoreland has to know more than the choreography. He has to thoroughly understand Bourne’s vision for the ballet. He says that insight comes from understanding why Bourne created an entirely new story and added several new characters for the ballet.
Westmoreland, who is a classically trained dancer, says he agrees with Bourne and most critics of “Sleeping Beauty” who claim the dance is hampered by the original story.
“Nothing really happens,” he says. “Tchaikovsky created this gorgeous music and because of the sluggish story it is difficult to appreciate.”
He agrees that Bourne takes great liberties with “Sleeping Beauty” right from the beginning. The work starts with the birth of Princess Aurora in 1890, the time of the original ballet was created. “I think it is a wonderful connection with the original and having the baby represented by a puppet is ingenious,” Westmorland says.
Bourne then moves the story to Aurora’s 21st birthday in 1911. “This is when she is pricked by poison and falls into a 100-year sleep, says Westmoreland in a telephone interview. “The mood is very Edwardian and Downton Abbey-ish. There is a lot of use of formal dances reflecting the stiffness of the period. It’s all very formal.”
The ballet then introduces what Westmorland refers to as “underworld characters” and the dance takes on a supernatural gothic mood similar to those found in the “Twilight” films.
“It moves to the woods and the choreography becomes very contemporary as they dance barefoot on the forest green,” Westmorland explained.
The final segment has Beauty wake in 2011. This says Westmorland “is very modern and the dance is dramatic and romantic.”
Bourne makes the princess’ lover a gardener who is able to transport in time to save her. “That’s something the show explains and all I can say is its very satisfying,” Westmorland said.
“This is brilliant storytelling. Matthew’s primary goal is to make his ballets accessible to the average person. He wants the audiences to enjoy his work. This show is emotional, filled with romance and extravagantly beautiful.”
He adds, “I know audiences will love it. But most important it serves the wonderful score written by Tchaikovsky.
“This is, I think, a ‘Sleeping Beauty’ that will become a modern classic.”
On stage ...
What: “Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty”
When: Tuesday through Sunday. Eves.: Tue., Wed. 7:30; Thu.-Sat. 8. Mats.: Thu. 1:30; Sat., Sun. 2
Where: Proctors Theatre, 432 State St. Schenectady, N.Y.
How: (518) 346-6204; proctors.org