SLEEPING BEAUTY: The set and costume design

Tickets: http://www.kennedy-center.org/events/?event=DODSC

There are many ways a designer will go about creating the world of a piece of dance, theatre or film. For Sleeping Beauty, the conversations about set and costume design begins early on in the development process. Bourne has been collaborating with Lez Brotherston for many years so a rapport and understanding of each other’s creativity and vision already exists.

A ‘storyboard’ is created of the plot scene by scene and from this: intention, mood and the characters journey through each section is formed. This also helps develop the story’s logic and narrative in areas where Bourne moves away from the traditional tale. This develops over a period of time and a number of creative meetings. This process enhances the cohesion between Bourne’s vision and Brotherston’s physical realization of the world of Sleeping Beauty.

A design budget is allocated to Brotherston from which costume, props and set need to be created. Brotherston carries out his own extensive research around each of the three eras Sleeping Beauty is set in. Each character’s costume is developed through ‘mood boards’ which include images, material samples, colour palettes etc. The costume materials that are chosen and how they are made is an important consideration for the designer as the dancers need to be able to move in them and they need to be robust enough to survive eight shows a week for around an eight month tour. Each dancer has his/her measurements taken for costume and wigs. Each dancer learns three roles and alternates on different ‘tracks’ of casting throughout the tour, so each needs a costume for each role. There are more costumes and wigs in this production than any previous show. Some costume and props items are bought others are made specifically for the production.

In creating the set, Brotherston has to take into account the different stages Sleeping Beauty will perform on, that the set has be packed up each week into trucks, again it has to be robust, it has to serve the narrative and the dancers performing on and around it. A model box is created to scale so the creative and production team can look at how each section works and any potential issues can be addressed before the set is constructed.

In Sleeping Beauty there are a few elements that New Adventures have not used before. Travelators (sections of floor which move) play an intrinsic part of the design, placed upstage on a slightly raised platform, two sections of floor move across the width of the stage in opposite directions, giving a powerful sense of movement and dramatic entrances and exits. The fairies first entrance in Act One is enchanting, eerie and mysterious, as the dancers appear to glide across the stage before stepping off the travelators to offer their gifts to the baby Aurora. The sleepwalkers also use the travelators in Act Three in the woodland held in limbo under Caradoc’s spell. The sleepwalkers weave across the stage with arms outstretched or effortlessly drop to the moving floor as if unable to control their need to sleep. Using this moving floor takes a lot of practice in rehearsals, so dancers become comfortable in stepping on and off with ease and safely.

The other new element is the use of puppets. Bourne’s acute sense of wit saw an opportunity in portraying the baby Aurora and Aurora and Leo’s fairy daughter as puppets, brought to life by members of the cast. This use of puppetry gives the audience a very clear picture of Aurora’s willful, strong character at the start of the show that we then see in her as a young woman. This arc continues through to the climax of the production and the ‘happy ever after’ final scene where the audience is introduced to Aurora and Leo’s fairy baby. During rehearsals, puppeteer/director Sarah Wright worked with the company to develop the skills needed to bring the baby Aurora to life. Sarah’s parents Lyndie and John Wright set up the Little Angel Puppet Theatre in Islington, London over 50 years ago. The puppets’ movements (there are a variety of baby Aurora puppets), like every other detail in Bourne’s productions, are choreographed in time to the music.