The Theatreguide.London Review
Sadler's Wells Theatre Winter 2005-2006; Winter 2008-2009
Matthew Bourne's new dance drama has the largest advance sale in Sadler's Wells history, and it has much to please audiences looking for a holiday season dance alternative to yet another Nutcracker.
And the only thing wrong with it is that it is at its best OK, and never as good as you would wish.
Bourne, who has built a deservedly high reputation for fresh choreography in modes ranging from classical ballet (an all-male Swan Lake) to West End musicals (Mary Poppins), has long wanted to adapt Tim Burton's 1990 film to dance.
And perhaps it is only because we have such high expectations of Bourne that he seems to have fallen short.
A reminder: Burton's film is a gothic fairy tale of a scientist-created lad with blades instead of fingers, who is first feared, and then adopted by a small town, in part because of his charm and their innate goodness, in part because he has a winning way with ornamental hedges and inventive haircuts.
The first thing you are aware of in this adaptation is that Bourne has not found a dance vocabulary for storytelling (as he did in Play Without Words, has adaptation of The Servant), and that almost all of Act One is exposition through mime.
There are some witty touches in the way he gives each family in the town its signature movement style which they retain whatever type of dancing they're doing. But the first actual dance sequence is a picnic scene that is strictly Grade-B Broadway choreography.
It isn't until the end of Act One and a dream sequence in which Edward loses his blades that he gets do dance a classical pas de deux with Kim, the girl he loves from afar, with his topiary figures coming alive to provide the corps de ballet.
It isn't especially inspired choreography, and borrows a lot from Swan Lake, but by that point the audience is so starved for real dance that the scene is received with pleasure.
With less plot to get through, things get better dance-wise in the second act. A wintertime dance for Edward and Kim is lovely, in a romantic style that resembles Agnes DeMille's classic Broadway dream ballets (e.g. Oklahoma and Carousel).
A Christmas party for the whole company is Grade-A Broadway choreography, and a final duet for Edward and Kim turns a technical challenge - how can he hold her without cutting her - into an inventive and evocative romantic dance vocabulary, as she finds ways to bypass his hands and fold herself into his arms.
The show is being danced by alternate mix-and-match companies. The Edward I saw, Richard Winsor is, in a word, awful.
Stiff and unexpressive, he seems to have taken Boris Karloff's Frankenstein as his model, except that Karloff managed to generate a sense of personality and sympathy. One hopes his alternate is better, because he is a gaping hole at the centre of the show.
Kerry Biggin is loveliest as Kim when actually dancing, though she gives little sense of the character in her acting. Almost everyone else has been directed to play cartoons, from Kim's bully of a boyfriend to the town vamp.
At barely two hours, including long interval, the show doesn't outstay its welcome, and the baubles along the way - particularly in the second act - are worth the wait. But those who love Matthew Bourne's previous work, and those who love the film, may be most aware of opportunities missed.
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