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Brief Encounter with ... Matthew Bourne

By • West End
New Adventures, which began in 1987 as “a group of friends who just wanted to get together to perform and choreograph”, is now one of the best known dance companies working today, both in the UK and internationally.

Led by superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne, who founded the company, New Adventures is celebrating its 25th birthday this year with three shows, each of which reflects a different aspect of the company.

Currently touring the UK is {Early Adventures::T1189292162}, a triple bill of works that launched Bourne's career as a dancer and choregrapher (until 30 June).

A brand new production of Sleeping Beauty – the third and final great Tchaikovsky ballet by New Adventures – will play at Sadler's Wells this Christmas (from 4 December to 26 January).

And on 18 July Play Without Words opens at Sadler's Wells, following a UK tour. It is the show's first revival since it premiered at the National Theatre in 2002. Based on the 1963 film The Servant, which was written by Harold Pinter and starred Dirk Bogarde, Play Without Words tells the story of the breakdown of a household after a manservant is hired by the husband of the piece. It won the 2003 Olivier Awards for Best Entertainment and Best Theatre Choreographer.

Here Bourne tells us about the revival, New Adventures turning 25 and his unique approach to choreography...


What made you want to revive Play Without Words now?
I was trying to create a year that said a lot about what we did. So we looked to where we came from with the early pieces and with the world premiere at the end of the year with Sleeping Beauty. So we’re looking at the old and the new and then in the middle it felt like Play Without Words was just screaming out to be seen again because it was probably the most unusual of the pieces. And we were looking at something that we could also do in the summer rather than in our winter slot – because Play Without Words has got this cool, amazing jazz score played live, it felt like it could attract that summer audience on those hot summer evenings.

How did you approach adapting Play Without Words at the National in the first place?
One of the unique things theatrically about the piece is I that decided to cast the five main characters with more than one person playing them so you get slight variations on the story all at the same time. It was an experiment at the National and it was intended to be experimental. But the wonderful thing that happened when we opened it is that it actually does work and people did really take to it. It became quite an accessible, popular piece, which is so unexpected because it seemed like a crazy idea that we were playing with. As a storyteller I like to be very clear because I’m working in a medium which for many people is a bit mysterious – storytelling through movement and without words.

How do you go about keeping your shows fresh for new audiences when you revive them?
I’m a tinkerer in my own work. I do change them a fair bit each time. I think it’s important that the performers have some sort of ownership over the roles. I like the performers to feel like they are giving something of themselves to it. With Early Adventures, which is the really early work, I wanted it to be seen as it was in some ways, I didn’t change it too much. Because I thought that was the point of doing it – to show what the work was like then and where the later pieces came from.

The creative team on Play Without Words, as well as many of the show's dancers, are people you've worked with before. How important is it to have those trusted collaborators on board?
Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, I don’t know, but I like my team around me. It’s not that I don’t enjoy collaborating with new people – I have done it and I do enjoy that – but there's just a lot to do when you’re creating a new production. People forget with a dance production that there is no script in the beginning of it. You’re not even half way there, so you need those people to help you shape the story and the storytelling.

Through shows like your all-male Swan Lake, New Adventures is credited with having opened dance up to a more mainstream audience. Was that part of the plan when you founded the company?
I don't think it was a master plan to do that. It was more a natural thing of the sort of work I like to do, which sort of partly explains why I do musical theatre as well. I like to entertain and in the dance world it’s quite unusual in some respects – the desire to entertain audiences. People don’t put that at the top of their list of priorities in a way and I think possibly the idea of narratives and the fact that most of my work is telling a story, it’s something that appeals to audiences generally. People go to the cinema or to the theatre to see a story played out for them and I think that’s not necessarily what all choreographers do in the dance world.

Where do your ambitions lie in terms of creating new projects beyond this 25th anniversary year?
When you've been around for this long it becomes harder to find ideas and new things. I think the next thing, apart from continuing with the company and developing dancers, which I love – could be more interesting film projects like the Swan Lake 3D we did this year. Maybe some site-specific projects as well. It's trying to find new ways of telling stories without words. That's what still excites me and intrigues me.


** DON'T MISS our Whatsonstage.com Outing to PLAY WITHOUT WORDS on 25 July 2012 and get your top ticket, a FREE programme and access to our EXCLUSIVE post-show Q&A with Matthew Bourne - all for the INCREDIBLE price of just £35.00!! CLICK HERE TO BOOK NOW! **

Tags: Dance


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