Matthew Bourne wakes up Sleeping Beauty
British choreographer Matthew Bourne talks about waking up Sleeping Beauty at New York City Center
Thu Oct 10 2013
Time Out New York: For your own process, before the workshop started, did you watch a million versions on video?
Matthew Bourne: I did. Very instructive, very interesting. Because the pieces got slower and slower and slower over the years. And it’s taken at snail’s pace now, the tempi.
Time Out New York: It’s so true!
Matthew Bourne: Yeah. It’s made it really dreary and long. Even the Royal Ballet, which is supposed to be the company that’s always historically protected that piece and done it over many years, has lost it. I hate to say it, but I wouldn’t have said that quite so firmly if I hadn’t seen a version of it from 1978. [Dance critic and historian] Robert Greskovic [got] me a version from a gala that was transmitted in the States from Covent Garden; you can see [Ninette] de Valois and [Frederick] Ashton sitting in the box. It’s fast-moving, it’s dramatically great, it’s funny, witty, it’s eccentric and all the characters are great. Apart from an array of dancers all dancing very individually with lots of personality, the thing about it that struck me the most was that it’s very fast-moving. Now everything is slowed down, and it’s such a shame. So approaching it fresh is being able to bring it back to the way it was or the way it probably should be musically. So that was an interesting element. Our Swan Lake is the same story. We were able to take it at the right tempo, because we started from scratch. It’s a shame what’s happened to it, I think. Such a wonderful piece.
Time Out New York: It’s like a funeral sometimes. You just can’t believe it.
Matthew Bourne: [Laughs] I fast-forwarded for myself. It feels right.
Time Out New York: Why do you have this special affinity for Tchaikovsky?
Matthew Bourne: I think his music is incredibly theatrical, and there are stories within it. There are many layers. He wrote these ballets to tell a story, which is an unusual relationship that he and Petipa had, particularly by the time he got to Beauty with this very clear guidance on the story, and what he was writing for. That’s wonderful because it’s expressive, and even if I’m not following exactly the same story, you feel stories within it, you feel characters within the orchestration. So I really respond to it in that way. I also respond to it as someone who loves melody and who loves musical theater. After all, that is what I’m doing: It’s musical theater in a different form, and I just feel that the audience comes out humming songs, but there are no lyrics. It’s just one great melody after another. It makes you want to move and feel and get involved. I think the reason I had such a happy time making this was just working with that music every day. I found it very inspiring.
Time Out New York: I do think that you let people, who don’t know this music so well, really hear it, and you see that transformation as they walk out the door. They’re so alive. It’s like they’ve been to a rock concert or something.
Matthew Bourne: It’s a discovery for many people. It’s so hard for us in the dance world to believe that in a way, but it is. People go, “Where can I get this music?” [Laughs] But it’s news to a lot of people and what it does to people and what it makes them feel.
Time Out New York: Do you have a favorite recording?
Matthew Bourne: Quite a few. The one I ended up liking the most was the André Previn. Or the John Lanchbery, who was a ballet conductor so he had more of a kind of dancey feel to it. They vary a lot. One of the weirdest ones was [Leopold] Stokowski, who changes everything—it’s quite fast. But somebody said to me it was because they wanted to get things on one side of a 78 record so they sped everything up. They were very bound to time so that may have been the reason. The Constant Lambert version is great. That was really interesting to hear. So there are many to choose from. I definitely did my research in that area, but we made our own full orchestral version of the piece, and it was tailor-made for this production, so that was a wonderful thing to achieve as well.
Time Out New York: Do you sell versions of your recording?
Matthew Bourne: No. But in Italy, Riccardo Muti came, and he loved it and wanted the recording so I actually gave him one, and I shouldn’t have. I’m not allowed to give it to anyone really, but because he was who he was, I let him have one. But no it’s not been released. We haven’t got that agreement. But it’s full of drama and energy.
Time Out New York: I know you’re very much inspired by film in general. Are there any film sources in this?
Matthew Bourne: Sort of. More to get the periods right. The ballet is the inspiration for the first section, the prologue. And the Edwardian garden party, there’s a lot of Merchant Ivory films that have been helpful; things like Howards End and The Go-Between, that get the manners right of that era. The company has been watching a lot of those movies: A Room with a View, Remains of the Day. People say that the last scene is a little not what people would expect. They say it’s a bit like Eyes Wide Shut. Sort of an erotic party. But I don’t want to emphasize that too much, because it’s essentially a family show. [Laughs] There are a few little things in it for adults, but you can bring young people to it. Not very, very young, but it is intended for families. So not a specific movie, apart from those that we’ve been watching. One of the interesting things was the dance styles, because we’ve been studying the dance styles of the periods. So going from ballet to Edwardian dance crazes and things was really interesting. We looked at Vernon and Irene Castle, and used a lot of those dances and adapted those. And then some dances that would have been introduced around that time or near to that time, so it’s almost like a dance history lesson as well. You’ve got that sense of Isadora in there, you’ve got the ballet, you’ve got the period dances and, toward the end, you’ve got the contemporary-style wedding scene. So you do get a bit of everything.
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