Matthew Bourne on Dorian GrayDate: 7 October 2009
A Matthew Bourne production is a big event in any dance fan's calendar. He has reworked Swan Lake, adapted Edward Scissorhands and made a Play Without Words. His newest work, Dorian Gray comes to the Lowry later this month. We caught up with him to discuss the show, his influences and career highlights.
You have a diverse portfolio of dance behind you, ranging from repackaged adaptations of Edward Scissorhands, The Nutcracker and now Oscar Wilde’s, Dorian Gray. How do you choose your sources?
Well, they are all fairly different- some come from music, as is the case with The Nutcracker, others are novels, like Dorian Gray. There is no specific area that I choose. You have to have an idea about adaptations, rather than simply create your own version. Some people may think that it’s not creative, but it is when you put your own slant to it.
One of the reasons you are so popular, stems from your ability to repackage traditional stories in innovative and exciting ways. In Swan Lake you brought us all-male swans. What are the most striking changes you have made to Dorian Gray?
The biggest change of all is that it is set in the present. With the novel being set in 1890, we have come forward more than 100 years. I have also changed the sex of some of the characters, males becoming females, and females becoming males. Lord Henry, for example, becomes Lady H and Sybil Vein, one of the principal characters becomes Cyril. I am so attracted by present themes, like the obsession with youth and the cult of celebrity.
What has been the most rewarding and challenging aspects of your latest piece to date?
A nice thing has been for me to be able to make a piece with a dark storyline, about the dark side of human nature, especially having just done big family pieces, like Scissorhands. There is a brand new score, new sets, and the whole piece has been a reward. Richard Winsor, who played Scissorhands, has been with me since he was 18 and he is now 26. He is wonderful and I made the piece for him. The most challenging part of Gray is that I have never set a piece in the present. It is so much easier to have a view on the past, although I know more about the present than I thought I did. There is always going to be the question of ‘Can I reflect times?’, as I don’t want to appear out of date. I really sought the advice of the dancers on aspects such as music.
Using an eclectic mix of various forms of dance, including contemporary and ballet, you are able to appeal to a wide target audience. Where does your inspiration come from?
I didn’t come from a ballet school and am interested in all kinds of movement. Having grown up loving musicals, I am as inspired by Fred Astaire, as I am by ballet choreographers and contemporary choreographers. I always choose whatever really seems right to the story. I’m very open to try different things.
It is fascinating to hear that you only began dancing at 22. With many people now acknowledging you as one of the most iconic figures of the twenty-first century, it would be interesting to know how your passion was sparked...
It wasn’t really a spark, it was a gradual. Although I only started late, I was always putting on shows in the bedroom and garden when I was younger! It was something that was always there. I just happen to have fallen into dance, telling stories without any words.
Last year you were able to celebrate 20 years of choreographing dance. What has been your personal highlight of these years?
So many- so so many! The most public highlight for me was winning the Best Director and Best Choreographer Tony Awards for Swan Lake. I never ever thought I would be in New York- the idea would have seemed ridiculous a few years ago! When Julie Andrews came to the opening performance that made my whole night! I’ve been very lucky and achieved many ambitions. The chance to work on Mary Poppins was absolutely wonderful.
Finally, where do you go from here?
Well, I love running a company- to choose what I do is a privilege. It was wonderful being able to work on musicals, such as Poppins, alongside co-choreographer Stephen Meer, but someone has to ask you to do it. I am also going to try out making a film, as I’ve always wanted to have a go at it. It will be a screen play of Cinderella, which is based on the stage version, and it has been commissioned by BBC film. I am definitely not going to give up the stage stuff though!
Matthew Bourne was speaking to Rebecca Cohen.
Matthew Bourne's Dorian Gray runs at the Lowry from Wed 21 - Sat 24 October. To find out more, click here.
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