Artistic Director

Associate Artistes

Executive Director, Re:Bourne

Assistant to Matthew Bourne

Nominated as "Outstanding Company" -  National Dance Awards 2009 and 2012

“The UK's most popular and most unclassiafiable dance company”

“Matthew Bourne is a whirlwind. He’s a dynamo, a powerhouse, a force of nature. He has created the busiest ballet company on earth and turned Britain into the worlds leading exporter of dance theatre”

“Fills me with optimism for the future of dance”

“In an era when dance companies are supposed to fight for funding and justify their existence, New Adventures can make an outstanding case for itself”

“Ballet haters should be prepared to have their prejudices blown away. This is real theatre worth traveling miles to see”

“If anyone has done more to make classical ballet a truly popular art form than Matthew Bourne, we have yet to meet them.”

“Bourne has established an unequalled track record for finding fresh, funny, individual talent. He may bring back his productions year after year, but they look different every season”

“No contemporary dance troupe in this country has ever achieved this kind of scope”

“It’s this degree of audience engagement that indicates , along with box-office figures , that Bourne has a knack for drawing people in, hearts and minds, to what’s unfolding on stage”

“New Adventures is attracting new audiences in unprecedented numbers, drawn to their dramatic way of combining film imagery and elements of musical comedy, theatre and ballet”

“Welcome to the Bourne supremacy...the success is undeniable. His shows capture International audiences by telling classic stories with a twist - cheeky, accessible but with a powerful emotional undertow. Swan Lake's feral male swans and the sugar-rush fantasia of Nutcracker! have become icons of British modern dance”

“Matthew Bourne has brought dance to the masses like nobody else”

“Without doubt the most commercially successful choreographer this country has produced”


press features


Sunday 3rd April 2011

Matthew Bourne, Britain’s No 1 dance export, talks to David Jays about a plan to give something back, and his turn to the dark side

Matthew Bourne doesn’t look like a pillar of the Establishment. He eases into a corner table in the Sadler’s Wells canteen, a tall man in a green plaid shirt. His voice is soft, respectful, easily amused. Anyone who has seen the tyrannical artistic director in Black Swan might expect Britain’s most successful choreographer to make a bigger, shoutier noise. But Bourne doesn’t need to throw a strop to make people listen.

Ever since he staged his audacious, heart-stopping version of Swan Lake in 1995, with its pack of feral male swans, audiences have followed. He has staged Edward Scissorhands, Dorian Gray and, most recently, a Cinderella, set at the height of the Blitz, that pulled in unprecedented numbers both at Sadler’s Wells and on tour.

A commercial and artistic success, he must be a tricky chap to buy gifts for. So what to get for last year’s 50th birthday? His company, New Adventures, together with friends and former colleagues, settled on an unusual pressie — they have funded a new biennial award for an emerging choreographer. Goodness, I say. Wouldn’t Bourne have preferred a yacht? He smiles. “I wasn’t expecting anything, really. I expect they were racking their brains. It seemed perfect, and touching, because so many people contributed to it.” Indeed, more than 120 people pledged almost £15,000 within 48 hours of the appeal going out.

The award, which will be presented in July, aims to help an artist build a career, with mentoring from Bourne and his polished organisation. There’s a reason why there are so few Bournes out there. Dance requires costly resources, studios, dancers, colleagues. You simply can’t do it alone. “It’s about giving a person a chance to do more work,” he says. “You need that chance to be able to show your work, and so few people get the opportunity to do it once they’ve left college. Then you’re out there on your own, and it’s about money, hiring space.”

Bourne is under no illusions as to why he has endured while other sparky contemporaries have faded away. “What I’ve discovered over the years is that it’s 50% talent and 50% having a business mind. Or having the right people around you, and not just being an ‘artist’.” Working unpaid and calling in favours are the staple of young dance companies. “That’s not making a living,” Bourne sighs. “How long can you go on like that for? That’s where they drop.” You won’t survive, he insists, without understanding budgets or marketing — or hiring someone who does. “I’ve seen people with a touch of genius, but they have no idea what they’re doing on that side of things.” Whoever wins Bourne’s award will spend time with spreadsheets as well as in studios.

Strategic exposure is also key. Bourne’s own career was kick-started by an appearance on a gala cabaret evening for the Dance Umbrella festival. “I never forget the good luck we had early on. They invited everyone involved with Dance Umbrella — all the regional presenters, all the dance press. From that one night, so much grew. We got bookings, a little spark of interest in the press.” Two decades on, Bourne hopes to return the favour via his platinum-quality contacts book. “I can invite the big names and get them to come along,” he admits.

The award is open to all dance styles, with no age limit. “We’re trying to be open-minded and not put too many restrictions on it. Eventually, it’s about a person. I’ll sense the passion.” Bourne’s only interest is in finding someone whose work makes a connection with audiences. His work is remarkable in reaching people with no previous yen for dance. Communication and entertainment are his touchstones. “I think you have to do that,” he argues.

If this year is about giving something back, next year should be full of fireworks. There are multiple anniversaries — 10 years of New Adventures and 25 since the foundation of its previous incarnation, Adventures in Motion Pictures. His sweet-toothed Nutcracker is 20, and returns to Sadler’s Wells this Christmas. Bourne will also revive some of his spikiest pieces. Play Without Words (2002) is a dazzling work, originally made for the National Theatre and based on the Dirk Bogarde film The Servant. A posh young chap, his manipulative valet and the other characters are played by multiple dancers in simultaneous scenes that mean you can never quite trust your eyes. It’s a seamy and sophisticated piece.

Winter 2012 brings something quite new. Bourne has persuaded Sadler’s Wells that a Christmas show doesn’t have to be overtly Christmassy, and hopes to create a piece to the music of the film composer Bernard Herrmann. Best known for his scores for Hitchcock — the swirling theme of Vertigo, the stabbing shower scene in Psycho — Herrmann also, as Bourne notes, “had an amazing, long career — from Citizen Kane to Taxi Driver. There’s some gorgeous stuff that people don’t know well. It’s great theatrical music, so I’m trying to build a story around that. It will be a great end to a celebratory year”. The Herrmann project is also a sign of confidence: “I feel that I can be a little bit bolder. I feel we’ve got the audience’s trust, which is a nice feeling. I always feel the pressure to want to please — I still get very nervous with new things.”

We met in early March, the day after Bourne’s return from Glasgow, premiering an unusual new piece. Lord of the Flies adapts William Golding’s novel about a pack of boys gradually turning to primitive violence when stranded on a desert island. What made this project startling wasn’t merely the savage subject matter, but the participants. The all-male cast combined dancers from New Adventures and Glasgow schoolboys, many of whom had never even seen the inside of a theatre.

“That was a hard place to start,” Bourne admits. “I’m used to being surrounded by people who are really eager and enthusiastic, so the early stages of this project were terribly difficult — 80% to 90% of the boys couldn’t care less, or gave that impression. Some had quite troubled backgrounds. I had a lot of doubts along the way. I didn’t think we could do it.”

Lord of the Flies may show civilisation falling to pieces, but the work paradoxically brought everyone together. The Glasgow lads were mentored by Bourne’s dancers and, slowly, studied indifference became genuine engagement. “The change in them in a few weeks was enormous — a change of personalities, completely. There’s something about being chosen that really helps someone’s confidence, being talked to and listened to. If they had an idea, we tried to include it. We saw them blossom in a way I had thought was impossible.”

The show is no worthy community project; Bourne brought in his A team, the designer Lez Brotherston and the composer Terry Davies. “I wanted to do a good job and give the boys a good experience.” That they had: one boy in particular, “a little tough guy, was in floods of tears in the corridor on the last night, on his own — he didn’t want to show anyone. It was a life-changing experience for a lot of them”.

Bourne is an affable interviewee, but periodically morphs into a walking factsheet to reinforce the company’s vital role in Britain’s dance ecology. “Some interesting statistics for you?” he asks. And they’re impressive: about how New Adventures is “the biggest dance export this country has, by far”. About how 70% of its Sadler’s Wells audience are wholly new to dance, while its regular venues outside London are now discussing two-week runs of the productions. Despite the statistical onslaught, Bourne retains an endearing diffidence: “I can’t believe I’m still doing this after 25 years.” But really, I tease, shouldn’t Britain’s biggest dance export have a peerage by now? Doesn’t Lord Bourne of Bourneville sound good? To my surprise, he breaks out a shy grin. “Something in me really likes the idea, because it’s so crazy. I dunno, yeah. It would be such a crazy thing.” So, grateful nation, shall we club together?


Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Matthew Bourne is the world's most popular living dance maker. Every night of the year, in some twilit city, the curtain goes up on one of his shows. On his tempestuous, mostly male Swan Lake, the longest-running dance production in London's history and a triple Tony Award winner on Broadway. On The Car Man, his steamy spot-welding of Carmen and The Postman Always Rings Twice. On his bittersweet Nutcracker or his funny, touching Edward Scissorhands.

In little more than a decade, Bourne, 48, and his London-based production company New Adventures, have redrawn the international theatrical landscape, attracting huge new audiences to their inventive and emotionally charged shows. On Aug. 22, at the Edinburgh International Festival in Scotland, they launch Dorian Gray, a tale of modern celebrity meltdown based on Oscar Wilde's 1891 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. “It's very dark,” says Richard Winsor, who dances the title role. “The book holds things back — but we're not holding anything back. Sexually, we're going further than we've ever gone.”

Wilde's novel, which has a strong homoerotic subtext, tells of a handsome young man-about-town in Victorian London who, as the years pass, never seems to look any older, despite living a debauched and ultimately murderous life. Up in a locked attic, however, his portrait grows increasingly hideous, as each of his crimes leaves its mark. For several years, Bourne turned the story over in his mind. One of the elements that fascinated him was its treatment of male beauty. “You have it, and then you lose it,” he says, recalling his own youth as a dancer in London. “I identify with that from my early clubbing days. The power that you felt walking in — like you ruled the world!” The obvious flaw of the book, as Bourne saw it, was its lack of sympathetic characters. But somehow he kept returning to it. “Perhaps this cautionary tale — this Rake's Progress — could tell us something about the world we live in.”

The Dorian Gray idea gained impetus when Bourne read Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories and learned that Wilde's novel (which Booker describes as a “black fairy tale”) headed the list of classic tragedies. And then there was the accidental death earlier this year of the actor Heath Ledger. “You have this beautiful, talented being dropped into another world — Hollywood — where everyone wants to get in with you,” says Bourne. “Would he have died if he'd stayed in Australia, I wonder, or was he a victim of modern celebrity?”

It was the notion of an ordinary person trapped in the spotlight, and the destructive changes this wrought on his psyche that finally unlocked the story for Bourne. His Dorian would be a contemporary young man — the It Boy — who is discovered by a media power broker and transformed into a cultural icon, shedding his humanity along the way. The homosexuality hinted at in the novel would be explicit, and it would be fading billboards, not a painting in the attic, that would serve as a metaphor for the damage to Dorian's soul.

Risky Moves

At a rehearsal studio above Sadler's Wells Theatre in London, Winsor — who also played the lead in Edward Scissorhands — is running through a series of macabre duets with his partners and victims. The music, by British composer Terry Davies, a long-time Bourne collaborator, is contemporary club scene with a sinister edge. "The show's very fast-paced," says Winsor, who prepared for the role by watching films like Peeping Tom, Matador and American Psycho. "We're making him much more psychopathic than in the book. He spirals completely out of control."

While acknowledging the riskiness of Dorian Gray's subject matter, Bourne and his people are cautiously upbeat about its future. The show has been financed almost entirely by the British venues where it will tour after its Edinburgh opening; in return for investing, they will receive a guaranteed share of box office. Another $300,000 or so has been provided by Arts Council England (a publicly funded body), but no "angels" have been tapped for an investment, so the production will not start in debt. "We're very light on our feet in that way," says Robert Noble, New Adventures' managing director. In Edinburgh, Dorian Gray will be watched by representatives of prestigious venues in Russia, Japan and the U.S., including New York City's Brooklyn Academy of Music. Without a step having been danced, a U.S. tour is provisionally penciled in for autumn 2009.

To get some idea of the beanstalk-like progress of a Bourne show, consider Edward Scissorhands, which opened in London in November 2005. To bring Tim Burton's gothic coming-of-age film to the stage, New Adventures raised $2 million from investors, and Arts Council England put in a further $780,000. Scissorhands played British venues until the autumn of 2006, then took off for Korea, Japan and the U.S., where it toured until spring 2007. In May of this year, a revived version of the show traveled to Australia, launching a national tour at the Sydney Opera House. The company returns to Britain for Christmas 2008, then begins a European tour in the spring of 2009. By the end of that tour the piece will have racked up almost 500 performances, and requests to stage it continue to pour in from theater managers around the world. So far, the original investors have recouped their investment and made a 12% profit — "Better, just, than a high-interest account," says Noble.

Bourne dates the beginning of his international career to an evening in 1997, when Gordon Davidson, founding artistic director of the Center Theater Group in Los Angeles, went to see a London production of Swan Lake, with its cast of virile, threatening male swans. "I was amazed by what he'd done," recalls Davidson, who retired in 2005. "I said to myself, we have to do it — somehow." He brought the piece over to L.A.'s 2,000-seat Ahmanson Theater, whose audience was more used to touring Broadway shows than experimental dance. But when Davidson wrote to all his subscribers telling them: "Trust me on this one!" they came. "And after that, we took New York by storm."

Bourne's success, Davidson says, is born of his genius as a storyteller. "Pieces like Swan Lake are so artistically provocative, in the way you're given a chance to look at a work of art with fresh eyes." For Miyako Kanamori, an executive director of HoriPro, a Tokyo-based entertainment company that has presented Bourne's work in Japan, the appeal lies in the universality of his themes. Expressing human feelings through movement is a feature of traditional Japanese Noh plays, and familiarity with Kabuki drama, in which female parts are played by male actors, has made Bourne's Swan Lake instantly comprehensible to Japanese audiences. In addition, says Kanamori, there's "the uniqueness of his ideas. For instance, the huge cake set in Nutcracker, and the dancing hedges in Edward Scissorhands. Cuteness and decadence exist together, which suits Japanese people's taste."

Beyond Words

In July 2009, Dorian Gray will head to Moscow's Mossovet Theater as part of the eighth Chekhov International Theater Festival. The seventh festival, in 2007, hosted Bourne's Swan Lake; the sixth, in 2005, featured his Play Without Words. "You can't imagine how popular Matthew is," says Galina Kolosova, coordinator of the festival. Play Without Words, which won an Olivier award following its run at London's National Theatre in 2003, is an adaptation of Joseph Losey's 1963 film The Servant.

A witty, psychosexual drama set in an upper-class London household, it features several dancers in each of the lead roles — a daring piece of staging that captivated Russian audiences. Marina Zayonts of the Moscow magazine Itogi remembers that even before Bourne arrived, she and other theater critics were passing around dvds of his work. What fascinated them was Bourne's "ability to break the generally accepted stereotypes," she says. "To us, this seemed to be an unheard-of courage."

If Bourne's shows speak to audiences all over the world, it's because he himself has such an acute comprehension of his medium. As a student in the early 1980s he was a near-obsessive balletomane, dissecting works by classical choreographers like Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan to work out how they established what he calls "that emotional mainline." But he also has an encyclopedic knowledge of film, and of how to apply its visual language in his own work. Speech, he believes, can often get in the way: "You feel things more deeply if there are no words." Go too far in the other direction, however — into what Bourne calls "dance," with audible quotation marks — and people disengage. Bourne's productions combine a precise middle course with translucent storytelling, leaving his audiences free to make the characters' emotional journey their own.

The effect is potent and compelling. Back in Moscow, where she is preparing to travel to Edinburgh for the Dorian Gray premiere, Kolosova describes the reaction of the 91-year-old former Bolshoi ballerina Olga Lepeshinskaya to Bourne's Swan Lake. Too frail to make it backstage from her box, the legendary People's Artist of the U.S.S.R. asked for a message to be sent to Bourne. "She wanted to tell him that this was the future," Kolosova recalls. "That this was the way forward."

Dorian Gray Etta Murfitt Scott Ambler Lez Brotherston Terry Davies Paule Constable Paul Groothuis


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