Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Who's a Pretty Boy Then?

I am sure that most of us are familiar with Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece (and only full length novel published) The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Having had his portrait painted Dorian a man of extreme beauty, realizes that one day his beauty will fade while the portrait will remain the same. The artist, Basil also becomes infatuated with Dorian, believing him to be responsible for a new direction in his art. Carelessly Dorian expresses a desire to sell his soul to ensure that his portrait would age rather than himself. Dorian’s wish is fulfilled, embarking him on a journey of hedonism and debauchery. The portrait serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement of his form, or through a sign of aging.

This classic novel with themes of Faust, Hedonism, Good, Evil, Aestheticism and duplicity has been the subject of many interpretations since published, from movies (3 I can think of), graphic novels, and ballet.

I also appreciate that fact that artists. Writers, musicians and choreographers take on the challenge of re-interpretating classic works. Such is the case with Matthew Bourne’s ballet Dorian Gray. The ballet premiered at the 2008 Edinburgh Festival, and became the most successful dance production in the Festival’s 62 year history.

Updating to a modern day setting with the artist becoming a photographer and our protagonist being a poster boy for perfume, the ballet manipulates our idea of image as applicable to the 21st century, which is a huge social aspect of the times we live in.

“What happens when attention is drawn to you through the camera or through a portrait?” Bourne asks. “A lot of people want to be your friend and give you things and celebrate you in a way that’s unreal. Yes, it feeds your vanity and opens doors but it comes with a price.”

Bourne also emphasizes the homo erotic undertones of the novel. “Undertones? It’s absolutely obvious what is going on and Wilde is pushing me to go farther. I’ve also changed the sex of a couple of the characters.” So Sybil, the actress who captures Dorian’s eye in the novel, becomes a male ballet dancer; while Lord Henry, the corrupting influence, is transformed into a powerful female magazine editor.

Definitely something with savoir faire don’t you think, albeit a bit concerning?
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