Beauty and the Beast; Oscar Wilde's Novel Is Transposed into the Vicious World of Modern Celebrity

By Jays, David | New Statesman (1996), September 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Beauty and the Beast; Oscar Wilde's Novel Is Transposed into the Vicious World of Modern Celebrity


Jays, David, New Statesman (1996)


Beauty: what is it good for? The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel, tries to isolate beauty, fence it off from morality, procreation, the body's decay. As the hero's putrefying portrait suggests, it isn't that easy. Matthew Bourne's eagerly anticipated dance version of the story for his New Adventures company updates the setting to contemporary London, focusing on a lad who becomes a billboard icon. Like Dorian himself, it doesn't work, exactly, but it is certainly arresting.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The novel's action stretches over decades, but the cycle of modern celebrity doesn't hang about: mayflies last longer. Where art meets fashion, the default pose is an extreme, world-weary slant, and the queen bee is Michela Meazza's sinuous Lady H, a Devil Wears Prada-style maven who remains fashionably bored even when shagging. Dorian (Richard Winsor) enters this world flunkying at a private view for the lank-haired photographer Basil (Aaron Sillis), a self-appointed genius in skinny jeans. Caught in the are light, he is initially abashed, but soon learns to turn and crouch for the lens. He and Basil lick vodka off each other's skin and race off to buck and arch, but later Dorian creeps down for another look at the camera. Sex is fine, but this is the real thing: a slow dance, running the camera over his body, smiling tenderly into the lens. He can't get enough of his own image.

Dorian is a beauty with a touch of thug, and everyone wants a piece of him. He becomes the face of a fragrance ("Immortal pour homme", bien sur), launched in a papping frenzy. Winsor charts Dorian's growing confidence: a jaguar leap, a proud stalk.

Lez Brotherston's incisive revolving set nails a double life -one side an immaculate white screed of photographer's paper, ready to receive fantasy, the other textured and rusty, the back room of the psyche. Central to Bourne's work are characters who retain their innocence despite everything. Dorian, however, can't wait to dump his innocence like a fat friend. He is briefly enthralled by the ballet dancer Cyril Vane (in the book, Sybil the actress), a pouty little number who quickly becomes a clingy kitty. The ballet background could extend the movement register, but Cyril (Chris Marney) doesn't embody much more than swoopy Romanticism. Bourne has always been a wordless dramatist rather than a steps man, but movement could capture beauty's uncanny lurch into transcendence. …

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