“All fairy tales have things in common…but each one has something unique about it,” said Mats Ek, whose modern adaptation of Sleeping Beauty is a truly unique fairy tale and ballet experience.
Le Grand Ballet’s production dances around the plot of the Disney adaptation most are familiar with, but strips it down to retell the story of family, love, and death.
We are presented with the ‘King’ and ‘Queen’, a young couple so wildly in love you quickly become both jealous of and hopeful for them. Then begins one of many suggestive scenes, this particular one entailing Aurora’s conception, then we are quickly swept to a birth scene. The four fairies — Gold, Emerald, Silver, and Ruby — work to deliver Aurora into the world, while warding off Carabosse, the modern day Maleficent. The scene is quirky and fun, somewhat distracting us from the dark comedy that is to come.
We watch, quite briefly, as Aurora grows, rebels against her parents, falls for a slew of men, and displays other normal teenage behaviour, until she meets Carabosse, who has been waiting for her the whole time. Drawn to the glorified life of drugs, led in hand by Carabosse, Aurora falls to the prick of a heroine needle.
The second act opens with a haunting trip through an addict’s mind, in what looks like rectangular chunks of ash that have fallen during intermission. The fairies enter to find the mess, and an unconscious Aurora, and struggle to clean up. Enter Prince Desire, who shouts directly at the audience, blaming us for being simple bystanders and not attempting to save the poor girl. The fairies plead for the prince’s help, and we continue to stand by as Aurora falls further into Carabosse’s soul-sucking lifestyle.
Hope finally seems on the horizon, as Prince Desire steps in to murder the dark forces in the princess’ life, and we are hopeful as the two take their first dance together and fall in love. And of course we cannot forget true love’s first kiss, which wakes Aurora from her coma. But just because the sun is shinning doesn’t mean we’re left with a happy ending.
Ek makes many bold moves within this production, such as the beheading of a raw fish on stage, and breaking ballet’s golden rule of no dialogue. He creates some strong images on stage using non-conventional light, sometimes as simply as by having a candle flicker as the King and Queen worry over their child.
Some scenes are a little too chaotic as you find yourself focused on trying to understand what is happening rather than focusing on the dance itself.
However, what makes this adaptation such a strong and stunning piece is the choreography. The King’s worry during the birth brings out the entire male cast and creates a dozen Kings rampant with worry; solos that clearly outline each fairy’s personality; and, most especially, the trip through the addict’s mind at the opening of the second act — itself no longer than two minutes — hits so hard and so accurately that you begin to feel bad for standing aside and allowing it to happen. Elegant, quirky, and raw, each movement encapsulates the story and draws us down even further.
Sleeping Beauty runs until Oct. 26 at Théâtre Maisonneuve.