A Wilde Performance: Dorian Gray (Sadler’s Wells)

I was talking to a couple of friends of mine a few months ago and they mentioned they were looking to get tickets to Matthew Bourne’s Dorian Gray at Sadler’s wells. I was dubious. Ballet’s not my thing. I don’t tend to cope well when there’s no words. But I’m very glad I went.

It’s been a long time since I tried to read Wilde’s book. I only gave up because the small font of my copy wasn’t conducive to the harsh lights of the Northern Line on my journey to work. But, at least after a synopsis, I could comprehend the story presented on stage in all it’s brash, gory and modernised detail.

The Aesthete, Lord Henry’s corrupting influence on Dorian leads him to believe that beauty is the only worthwhile aspect of life. The picture, or in Bourne’s production, photograph Basil Hallward paints of Dorian symbolises that. Dorian wishes it would grow old in his place. The story goes on to tell of his loves and desires, their ugliness, and his experiments with numerous vices. In the modernised version the cocaine, partying and homoerotic sex are portrayed as graphically as I’d imagine ballet would allow (indeed beyond what it would allow).

The show’s received mixed reviews:

The negative commentary on Dorian has been especially interesting because so much of it has focused on the fact that the choreography looks trashy and posey, despite the fact that the world of celebrity it’s portraying is itself trashy and posey. It raises the question of how deep a satire can go into its subject without taking on the qualities it criticises…

Personally I think that Bourne gets away with the limitations of the choreography (even the repetitive shagging and partying scenes) because of the credibility and detail with which he dramatises Dorian’s world.

The performance was incredible – although I admit I have not seen true ballet before. The dancers were beautiful – which was how they were portraying the ugly world of fashion, Dorian’s dismissive nature clearly apparent in the performance. The music has been much-criticised but it served a purpose – mainly to make you feel uncomfortable with what you’re seeing, even though what you’re seeing is ballet. I couldn’t tell after the show whether I wanted to look as good as the dancers, or whether the message of Wilde’s story about obsession with youth and beauty made me disgusted at the thought.

The Guardian has a gallery of photographs here.


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