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: Can you talk about the wedding scene?
Matthew Bourne: She’s about to marry the wrong man. That’s one of the plot twists that happens. There’s a sense that it’s all going wrong, and it’s not going in the right direction. And we know, as an audience, that he is the son of Carabosse, and that he possibly has evil intent, so there’s a sense of tension running throughout it. It’s not the jolly, fairy-tale wedding party that we normally get. And it’s almost like a cult gathering and possible virgin sacrifice about to happen. [Laughs] It might upset some people expecting, you know, dancing frogs and Red Riding Hood. I’m afraid she’s not there. There are a lot of red costumes, so they might enjoy that. It does make sense. It has a sense of menace about it. I will say, it does end up well in the end, but it’s a long time coming. [Laughs] It finally resolves itself. You know the ballet sort of resolves and then you have another whole act? It’s odd. That’s why I had to come up with something else. We’ve managed to keep quite an intense plot going throughout the second half of the evening.
Time Out New York: What are you working on next?
Matthew Bourne: I’ve started to think about The Red Shoes, based on the film. I know there was a musical of it some years ago that was a complete flop on Broadway, but I’m very intrigued by that notion of life versus art, or love versus art and trying to capture something of the spirit of that film onstage—what was cinematically exciting in it to make it theatrically interesting? To have these surreal moments in it. I love the atmosphere of that film. It’s weird—I’ve been watching it and agreeing with Lermontov all the time. Everything he says, I’m sort of becoming a bit like him. As the director of a company, I’m like, yes! He’s absolutely right. [Laughs]
Time Out New York: Like what?
Matthew Bourne: That whole thing about how you can’t have a relationship if you want to be a great dancer. He hates the ballerina that goes to get married. And then when she leaves to work with another company, he’s like, “Why settle for second best?” I’m going, yes, yes, absolutely! [Laughs] You’re very selfish—when you run a company—about people’s lives. So, yeah, I was worried about myself. I found myself agreeing with him a lot.
Time Out New York: Do you generally work with the same people for years and years?
Matthew Bourne: Yes. It’s very family-like, this company. It’s got an astonishing atmosphere about it. Partly because they’re not booked with contracts for two years, three years, whatever it may be. It’s show by show and contract by contract, but there’s an enormous amount of people coming back. The people playing the leads in this, they’re all people who have worked with me before and worked on other productions. One of the things we’ve been working on in recent years is finding a more truthful style of acting within dance and within performing in large theaters. It’s quite difficult to pitch it. Where do you pitch it? Do you pitch it to the front row or to the people in the back of the circle? We sort of hit on this thing of honesty and truthfulness and it seems to work and it seems to travel across space very well. So I think in recent years, the style of acting has changed in the company, and I’m very proud of what we’re doing now and what we’ve managed to achieve in this piece with the feeling of it. They are a really wonderful cast of dancers, dancer-actors.
Time Out New York: Do you have your dancers audition for each show? Do they re-audition or do you think of them for certain parts?
Matthew Bourne: When it’s leading roles, I like to have them in mind. It helps me when I’m creating a piece to have individuals in my head. It makes it real to me. We do auditions every year. We’ve got Swan Lake coming back at the moment. We’re rehearsing it at the same time, in the same building. And we got a lot of new swans—for a lot of people who came to audition, this was the reason they started dancing, to be in this Swan Lake. It’s an amazing thing that’s happened. That after 18 years, you’ve got a cast of male swans: This is their ambition. There’s a lot of new talent there, and it’s a training ground, that show, for all the other things we do. So at the moment, we’ve got 70 dancers working for us in three productions. We’re workshopping a Lord of the Flies production, which is something that the charitable side of my company is doing with professional dancers and young people in different cities. We create the show fresh with local, young people. There’s a lot going on at the moment.
Time Out New York: That’s wonderful that children grow up aspiring to be in your Swan Lake.
Matthew Bourne: Yeah, isn’t it? [Laughs] Especially young men, it is cool. To be a reason a young guy started dancing—to be a swan? It’s a strange thing that’s happened. I do love that, which is why running a company is such a wonderful thing for me. I love developing the talent. And I’m very into—as well as doing all the work we’re doing with the charity, which is one side of what we do—but also, I have a choreography award now. I don’t think you know about that. It was a gift from all my friends and colleagues for my 50th birthday, which was three years ago. They created this fund to create a choreography award. We’ve just given the second one. It’s funded now by different supporters, and it’s 40,000 pounds; we’ve just managed to share between three choreographers for different reasons. One to give her some producing help; one we’ve got a commission for with a dance company in Leeds; and the other one has a showcase of work presented to the dance world. That’s the main prize, we get to showcase their work and try and put them on the map a little bit. I’m very much into supporting young choreographers because I know how hard it is. If you’re outside the main companies, to even get a piece seen is expensive—dance and studios. It’s not like writing a book or writing music or something. You can at least try to do that on your own. It’s hard for choreographers, so I’m very into supporting them as well.
Time Out New York: I see James Cousins won the New Adventures Choreographer Award.
Matthew Bourne: Yes, he was our first winner. He’s done amazingly well in the year since he’s been showcased. He’s all over the world now. But he did produce an amazing duet, a really beautiful duet. I would love it to be seen in New York. It’s a duet—I think it’s 18 minutes long now—where the woman never touches the floor. It’s hypnotic. He had a little triumph there with that piece. He’s very talented.
Time Out New York: What do you look for when you look at choreography?
Matthew Bourne: Everyone thought I was going to look for people that were a bit like me. [Laughs] That’s harder in some ways because I’m a little bit more critical of people who do a very similar thing to what I do. You know more about it. So I do get applicants a bit like that. I do like connection with an audience, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m looking for dance-theater or that kind of work. I try to look for something that feels like it has enormous ambition. Having that is so important. You need that kind of energy and to have that ambition. Someone who looks like they have the beginnings of their own voice. Or to try and mentor them toward that and don’t tell them what to do—to get them to find what it is that’s different. Young people tend to be inspired by the same choreographers—the choreographers of their era. They say, “I like so-and-so’s dancing,” and it’s always the same. And some of the work can be a little similar, and you try to edge them toward, “What is important to you?” I think that’s what it’s about really. But also if it’s an award that ends in a showcase of their work, they need to be able to present a show that we can invite people to that’s worthy enough for people to give a night up to come see it. So I am conscious of that as well. But it’s a whole year of mentoring. It also involves learning about marketing and running a company and all the aspects of that. It’s not just about the choreography. It’s about taking them to the next level.
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is at New York City Center Oct 23–Nov 3.
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