Friday, October 4, 2013

Mats Ek's Modern "Sleeping Beauty" Is A Recovering Junkie Making Her Own Happy Ending

Created by Damian Siqueiros for created for the 2013-2014 Season of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens of Montreal
Mats Ek's Sleeping Beauty - Les Grands Ballets Canadiens - 2013
CALGARY: OCT 31 - NOV 3, 2013/ EDMONTON: NOV 6-7, 2013

There are two acclaimed modern Sleeping Beauty ballet productions debuting this month. The first, by world renowned Swedish choreographer Mats Ek, although not a new work, is a new production and will be performed in Alberta (Canada) for the first time. The other (by English choreographer Matthew Bourne) is a brand new which debuted in the UK this past year and is deserving of its own separate post (which should post this weekend).

This modern Sleeping Beauty ballet (and this production) is by all reports unforgettable but despite using Tchaikovsky's lovely score (which I knew by heart at age 5) the issues and narrative centering around a recovering "girl interrupted" type character, mean this interpretation is definitely not for kids (at least not without adult supervision). There are also nods to that "other" half of Perrault's Sleeping Beauty (& The Sun, Moon & Talia) as she finds herself pregnant and bewildered upon awakening from her overdose, with her happily ever after still quite a journey away. The explorations of human psyche and inter personal relationships using the Sleeping Beauty tale have critics in agreement that this is a magnificent work. Because of the modern ballet medium and Mat Ek's humor, however, not everything is necessarily clear along the way to even balletically savvy audiences. For instance those three ladies on the sides of the image below are fairies, and (in past productions) the audience is treated to a recipe for fish broth by a chef who appears on stage, for what purpose exactly, I still haven't read a good explanation. Despite this, the interpretation is considered a modern masterpiece and not to be missed.

Mats Ek has a penchant for taking classic stories and modernizing them with a visceral and controversial edge, while still managing to contain a sense of humor (albeit a dark one). Images from his Giselle  - both fascinating and provoking - stay with me to this day. I'm told his Sleeping Beauty would likely do the same.

I love this summary of how the Sleeping Beauty tale is updated and the quotes by Mats Ek himself that it contains, explaining not only his approach to this ballet but to fairy tales in general:
Created in 1996 for Hamburg Ballet, Sleeping Beauty tells the modern story of Princess Aurora, now a rebellious teen who has fallen victim to the prick of a heroin needle and a menacing drug dealer who has no intention of saving her. Lifted by the stirring sounds of Tchaikovsky and Ek’s signature dark humour, audiences will dive into the many troubling and beautiful layers of the human psyche, exploring death, love, jealousy, revenge and happy endings with 30 dancers from Les Grands Ballets. “A fairy tale is like a pretty little house, but there’s a sign on the door saying ‘land mines! ’All fairy tales have things in common: princesses, witches, kings and queens, Good and Evil. But each one also has something unique about it, because inexplicable things happen. InSleeping Beauty, for me, this mysterious moment is the actual prick of the thorn, with the sleep that follows. What does this mean, and what is really going on? I have an irrepressible storytelling urge. Rereading myths, legends and fairy tales, discovering their obvious aspects, sabotaging them and re-creating them—in other words, taking them seriously—is to my mind an act of the greatest significance.” -Mats Ek Not recommended for children under 12
(Emphasis in bold is mine.)

Take a look at this lovely trailer for the upcoming production:
From The Montreal Gazette:
In Ek’s modern conception, Princess Aurora is a wilful modern woman whose rejection of society’s norms brings her under a spell cast not by a spiteful witch but by a male drug pusher. Aurora’s deep sleep is a result of a drug injection. Her recovery depends on rather more substantial therapy than a prince’s kiss. 
Nowadays, modernizing classic ballets is nothing new... But in 1982, when Ek staged his first classic ballet reworking, Giselle, it was a radical move in the dance world. In its original 1841 version, Giselle loses her mind, kills herself and returns as a spirit in a forest. Instead of a forest, Ek put Giselle in a mental institution. In 1987, he created a Swan Lake with baldheaded swans and a hero unsure of his sexuality. Sleeping Beauty, his final reworking of a major classic to date, was made in 1996 for Hamburg Ballet following an unexpected encounter in Zurich. 
“He was walking outside the Zurich Opera,” Monika Mengarelli recalled recently. Mengarelli is a veteran member of Cullberg Ballet who was in Montreal with its former artistic director, Margareta Lidstrom, to restage Sleeping Beauty, aided by Les Grands’ ballet mistress, Margret Kaufmann. “There’s a park where drug addicts liked to meet or sit. Mats saw a girl on a bench who was clearly an addict.” 
The girl’s plight was the kernel that grew into Sleeping Beauty. It was typical of Ek. All of his works are sparked by experiences grounded in the real world.
Here's the official write-up for the production from Les Grands Ballets Canadiens:

One of the world’s most acclaimed choreographers of the 20th Century, Swedish maverick Mats Ek’s trademark black humour comes to Alberta for the first time with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal's riveting rendition of his Sleeping Beauty. Set to Tchaikovsky's spell-binding score, this adult fairytale takes Aurora on a quest for the unknown and is nothing short of astonishing. Created in an esthetic that is at once subversive, highly comical and yet deeply troubled, Mats Ek’s remarkable version of Princess Aurora’s mythical odyssey has been acclaimed and cherished around the world as one of the great choreographic masterpieces of the century. (Parental guidance is advised.)
If you love ballet and/or modern dance I recommend reading the full article at The Montreal Gazette which details some of the dancers' challenges in executing Ek's choreography and narrative as opposed to the traditionally grueling technical challenges of Petipa's traditional ballet version of Sleeping Beauty.

You can find information about tickets and times HERE.

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