Dancer Dominic North is currently touring with New Adventures, performing in Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty.
He found time for a quick chat with Georgina Butler to discuss how things have moved on since the “original” Princess Aurora dozed off.
Dancer Dominic North first appeared with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures in 2004 as an ensemble swan in Swan Lake. Since making his official début in a principal role as Edward in Edward Scissorhands in 2008 at the Sydney Opera House, he has performed as many of Bourne’s lead characters.
Matthew Bourne is renowned for delving into stories in a bid to reveal characters’ motivations and unearth deeply buried narrative elements. His Sleeping Beauty is devised as a gothic romance full of fairies, supernatural surprises and, of course, true love. Bourne plays around with the time that the story is set so that Princess Aurora is born the year that the classical ballet first premièred and “comes of age” with a 21st birthday during the Edwardian era. This means that she is roused from her slumber in 2012 (which is when Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty was premièred).
He certainly gives the traditional tale enough ingenious twists and turns to keep a contemporary audience intrigued. Just for starters, Aurora falls for the royal gamekeeper; the couple enjoy a sweet romance before the princess visits the land of Nod and a vampiric twist heavily influences who is there to wake her up a century later! Nonetheless, Bourne’s careful attention to detail when coming up with his concept means that he manages to put his own spin on proceedings while simultaneously paying homage to the masterpiece that the classical ballet will forever be.
I am such a balletomane and The Sleeping Beauty may well be my favourite classical ballet (although, admittedly, the top-spot seems to change far too frequently to enable me to have a definitive favourite!). Still, prior to seeing Matthew Bourne’s version, I had never properly considered quite how momentous falling asleep for 100 years would actually be. Maybe it is just because we know the children’s yarn so well but his imaginative approach certainly adds an array of fascinating features that were missing from my bedtime stories!
What better way to learn more about Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty than by chatting to New Adventures‘ principal dancer Dominic North all about the role that has made him wake up and see this fairy tale differently.
Happy New Year Dominic! It looks as if your 2016 will be packed full of dancing as you are going to be touring nationwide until May with New Adventures, performing Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty. You are currently in the middle of a run at London’s dance house, Sadler’s Wells, so you spent your Christmas entertaining theatregoers at the venue. How has it all been going?
It has been great. We’ve been at Sadler’s for over six weeks now and we are doing an eight-week run.
We have indeed been performing Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty over the Christmas period and the shows have all been really busy. I think it is the perfect show to see all year round but it is definitely a perfect one at Christmas because it’s a family-oriented show full of magic and, of course, it’s got Tchaikovsky’s music.
It’s one of Matthew Bourne’s fairy tale productions so people know the story and can relate to it but know to expect that he has changed things to make it a total reinvention that suits his amazing storytelling. I just don’t know how he does it but he always shows new parts to the stories that no one else would have thought about!
We all know to expect the unexpected from Mr Bourne but what did you think when his concept for Sleeping Beauty was awakened for the very first time in the rehearsal room?
I really wondered what he would do to the story to make it his own and when he started describing his vision for it I could definitely see how it would work for today’s society and a contemporary audience. I mean, now, you wouldn’t marry the first guy that kisses you would you?! So, by having the love story happen at the beginning – before she falls asleep – it really works.
There is all that time when she is asleep and the world changes so the way he weaves in some vampires helps explain how characters can survive through time. Our Lilac Fairy character is actually a “Count Lilac” so rather than just softening the curse he uses his vampire ways to help make sure love conquers all!
The love story itself is just brilliant. The character that I play is called Leo and he is the love interest – but he is no prince charming, just like the Aurora character is not your standard princess. Leo is the royal gamekeeper and Aurora is a real wild child with a strong personality. The relationship between her and Leo is almost a bit Wuthering Heights or Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which is exciting to dance and portray.
Do you have a particular section within the show which is your favourite piece to dance?
Tchaikovsky’s music is just brilliant but the Rose Adagio is such a famous piece of music, it is epic. So the section where I dance to that piece of music is probably my favourite, although of course our Rose Adagio is nothing like the one you would see in the classical ballet.
It is extremely emotional and involves the Aurora and Leo characters running free, travelling across the stage. It is just great fun to do, a happy dance with so much feeling. We are really just able to throw ourselves into it.
Something else that you cast members must be able to throw yourselves into is interacting with the Baby Aurora that Matthew Bourne has incorporated into this production. She is definitely something very different for audiences to appreciate, I’d say?
Ah yes, the Baby Aurora! Well, in the classical ballet The Sleeping Beauty the baby Aurora is just a potato – she is not seen as she is just a baby in her cradle throughout the whole of the christening. So although the whole occasion is all about her, and it is the time when the curse is put on her, we never actually meet her.
In our Sleeping Beauty, of course, it is very different and we have a Baby Aurora who is full of personality and really makes her presence felt. She crawls around and gets up to all sorts!
We’ve got a chest of drawers full of Baby Aurora puppets – it is a little bit strange to see – and different puppets are able to do different things. So we have a “Crawling Aurora”, a “Cot Aurora” and a “Crying Aurora” early on in the ballet. I am one of three dancers who operate the “Crawling Aurora” so there is one of us on the head and body, someone else on the feet and someone else on the hands. The “Cot Aurora” just takes one guy and so does the “Crying Baby”, which is held a bit like a ventriloquist’s dummy.
As we are chatting about his brilliant efforts re-imagining Sleeping Beauty, we absolutely cannot forget to mention Matthew Bourne’s Knighthood for services to Dance in the New Year’s Honours List 2016. That must have been good news to hear?
It is amazing news! He told me and the rest of the dancers a couple of weeks before the news was published, making a big announcement after the show one day. It is so well-deserved and what makes it even more amazing is that he is genuinely self-made. There is just him doing it, he is not part of a company that has been going for decades and has a history and track-record before his involvement.
He hasn’t even been around for thirty years and so it is great for him to be acknowledged in that way. And, of course, his work is in contemporary dance not classical ballet and it is unusual for contemporary dance to feature in these sorts of awards.
So hopefully Matthew Bourne’s Knighthood will inspire more choreographers and get contemporary dance growing, improving and getting more recognition.
You have been a workshop leader for Re:Bourne, New Adventures’ educational department, since it formed in 2008. Please tell me more about your involvement and what the benefits are for the young people who participate in Re:Bourne’s work.
Re:Bourne invests in the future of dance and is really all about getting young people to experience dance themselves, maybe for the first time at all or maybe by exposing them to our quite individual dance theatre genre. It is a really big part of the company now. It just started as quite a small extra element but now it has grown and is really central to Matthew Bourne’s vision and work.
I am a Re:Bourne Associate Artist, which means that I teach and perform a lot of the repertoire from New Adventures’ productions as part of workshop visits to schools and colleges around the country. We do show-specific workshops focusing on the themes and content of New Adventures’ shows but we also do general dance and performance ones. We go to all sorts of secondary schools and academies, as well as the vocational colleges and the young people we work with are very switched on to dance. I really enjoy chatting to them and seeing what they think about the productions they might have seen or clips they have seen on the internet. I think they know a lot more about dance than I ever did when I was at school as dance is more accessible now and there are these new academies that specialise in performing arts too — which is great. But it is definitely encouraging to see how enthusiastic the kids are at all the schools we go to, not just those who are in vocational dance training.
Other projects as part of Re:Bourne include putting on full-scale productions with young people. We did Lord of the Flies to find and nurture young male dance talent. The performers for the young ensemble changed at every venue, giving lots of young boys a real insight into our company and dance itself.
I suppose the best thing about my involvement in Re:Bourne’s work has to be the idea of inspiring other people to want to do more with dance. Whether that is dance themselves or just watch more dance and be a more involved audience member – with more knowledge and appreciation of what the artists on the stage are trying to achieve.
How do you find that audience members react to Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty and his other productions? Do you feel that you get a real mixture in terms of ballet fans, general theatre lovers and newcomers to theatre and dance attending performances?
Most of our audience members come to be entertained and they love that we do that through a combination of different sorts of dance and plenty of drama. While those in the know might be looking to see how much ballet or contemporary dance we do, our productions are seen by people with all levels of interest in dance.
We get a lot of people who have never been to a ballet – and would refuse to ever go to one – yet they end up absolutely loving what we do and what Matthew Bourne does. The “Bourne ballets” are not ballet proper so they can get away with the cheeky things that you would not get at the classical ballet. So, more humour, crazy characters. A complete theatrical experience.
I think audiences really enjoy it because we have such a broad range of dancing styles and emotions within our shows. I think it is really hard to put New Adventures in a dance genre. We have all trained in different places so some of us have trained in dance, whether that be just classical ballet or dance in a more general sense and others have trained at theatre school.
Ultimately we are all performers and we want to entertain and that is what Matthew Bourne’s shows do so well. We take daily classes in both contemporary and ballet and mostly refer to New Adventures’ style in productions as “dance theatre”.
You have performed with New Adventures at Milton Keynes Theatre quite a few times in the past. Are you looking forward to being back?
Milton Keynes Theatre is definitely one of the better venues on our tour schedule! Partly for its size as there is plenty of space both on-stage for dancing and off backstage. I love a nice dressing room – and I know I’ll get that, along with hot water!
As well as the building itself, the crew are lovely and audiences in Milton Keynes are always really receptive.
Go on then, tell us again: why should we come to Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty?
This take on the classic fairy tale has so much going for it. Like all Matthew Bourne’s work there are some really clever twists and the characters are so well developed. I love that our Princess Aurora is a real wild child. You see that in the baby puppet and then when the grown-up Aurora is on-stage she is still a bit of a rebel!
Our Sleeping Beauty definitely has something for everyone whether you are a die-hard dance fan or not. It’s got a good story, good dancing, good music, good acting and humorous moments too. It’s light theatre at its very best.
Bourne’s productions are all about getting audiences to engage. We have humour, crazy and lovable characters and stories that really draw you in – as well as lots of dance content. Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is no exception and I am really looking forward to our run in Milton Keynes.
Finally, what do you think will be next for Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures? What else do you think Mr Bourne might have up his sleeve?
I am sure he has plenty of other ideas and there is much more to come in the future! He has completed his Tchaikovsky trio now there is a Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty in the repertoire and there are so many other stories that he has already tackled, which were things that he had always wanted to do.
There are lots of other things I am sure he would love to have a go at reinventing but, to be honest, there is so much rep now that as soon as we have we finished touring one show then people ask when is something else, say Swan Lake, coming back? So there will be more but people still want to see all his amazing work so far too.
We’ll just have to wait and see what he does next!
*Photography courtesy of New Adventures. (Credits: Mikah Smillie, Johan Persson, Hugo Glendinning.)
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty comes to Milton Keynes Theatre from Tuesday 26 to Saturday 30 January 2016.
An abridged version of this interview is featured on Total MK.
I also wrote a preview for the Milton Keynes Citizen’s GO! supplement.
Update 28 January 2016 : Read my review of Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.