Reimagining the Classics

There is an old saying ‘If you build it, they will come’. Really? I don’t think that is actually true. I think it should go something more like this: ‘If you build it for them, then they will come’.

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Classics are so for a reason. They have an underlying story which resonates with a wide variety of audiences across both time and place. But that doesn’t mean that the same production will communicate this message to different audiences.

The manner of communication changes rapidly over time, especially in the last decade or so!

Take Romeo and Juliet as an example. The original play performed back in Shakespearean times resonated with that audience and clearly conveyed the messages intended by the playwright. If that same performance was mounted today the message would be apparent to a small portion of society innately familiar with the setting, but it wouldn’t have the same far-reaching appeal or impact. In order to create this impact the play has been transplanted into different situations which resonate with the audience.

Baz Luhrmann’s reinterpretation, for example, sets the Shakespearean text in a setting with which audiences can relate. And countless other reinterpretations by production companies have successfully conveyed this meaning by reimagining the play with their potential audience in mind.

Well, this isn’t specific to the play or musical industry!

Matthew Bourne, a UK-based choreographer, is best known for his reimagining of classic ballets and musicals. And recently a documentary was created about his latest theatrical feat – a reimagining of the classic ballet Sleeping Beauty.

With the aim of encouraging new audiences to this timeless tale, several decisions have been made about this new production. The setting ranges from a beginning in the late 19th century through a 100 year sleep into a modern day society. The story has been turned upside down into a gothic fairy tale creating a supernatural love story across the decades full of fairies, vampires and gothic opulence. And the choreography also aims to incorporate a range of modern movement familiar to a contemporary audience.

The story’s essence hasn’t changed, but the method of communication has. And all for the better because that core message is conveyed in a way that current audiences can fully appreciate.

And that is something of the utmost importance for maintaining the relevance of classics. Too often certain types of classical artistic works are presented in a way that would appeal to the bourgeois societies of yesterday – not tailored to the current societies. But if you want them to come and have a great experience, then they need to resonate with the way in which the classic is performed.

And if Matthew Bourne keeps doing this so brilliantly, and inspiring others to follow his lead, then there will be no reason why the classics can’t maintain their influence for another 100 years (or more . . .)!

P.S. If you have some spare time, check out the documentary about the creation of this newly reimagined Sleeping Beauty entitled A Beauty is Born: Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty!