Matthew Bourne’s sexy dance drama continues Norwich links

Dance legend Matthew Bourne is celebrating his 25th anniversary as a choreographer this year. And he is continuing his strong links with Norwich by bringing his sexy and chic revival. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH reports.

Award-winning choreographer Matthew Bourne admits he has a special relationship with the Norwich Theatre Royal. After all, the venue is one of just three places he has chosen for the staging of the revival of his smash-hit production of Play Without Words.

The Oliver Award-winning production arrives next week having received rave reviews in Leicester and at London's Sadlers Wells.

And in November he will be back with a new ballet, a spell-binding version of Sleeping Beauty, will receive its premiere in Norwich.

'We are always guaranteed a great response to our productions in Norwich,' he says. 'There is something about the audiences — we know we can come two or three times in a year and tickets will still sell out very quickly. We have a great relationship with the theatre too and thought it would be lovely to do something new there.'

The past year has seen a number of celebratory events for Matthew and his team. It has been 25 years since he launched his first company Adventures in Motion Pictures.

'We first staged Play Without Words 10 years ago and it was a really unique piece. It went deep into storytelling but without using words and so stood out as something really unusual at the time.

Most Read

'In doing it again, I decided not to make any major changes. A couple of those who were in it the first time are in it again.

'They are still at the top of their game and it is nice to be able to use people who are strong actors as well as dancers.'

Richard Winsor danced the lead roles in Swan Lake, Edward Scissorhands, Nutcracker! and Dorian Gray for Matthew Bourne and made his film debut in the lead role of Tomas in StreetDance 3D. Recently he was Father Francis in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks.

Saranne Curtin has taken on the lead roles in the original casts of Swan Lake and Cinderella, and will re-create her acclaimed role as Glenda in Play Without Words.

Set in Chelsea, in 1965, the show explores the free-loving, swinging '60s and its darker, seductive side.

In a Chelsea home, where only the most beautiful people live, an urbane master and his beautiful fianc�e welcome their new manservant, Prentice. What follows changes their lives forever – and proves a surprising truth about love and the struggle for power, territory and sexual domination.

'We've created something that's sexy, chic, suave and full of the trademark style and drama expected from a New Adventures production,' says the choreographer. 'The story was inspired by several 1960s films, most notably The Servant, in which the class system is challenged when a servant turns the tables on his arrogant employer.'

Known for his ground-breaking shows, Bourne has built up a reputation for his edgy approach with his own takes on the likes of Swan Lake, Cinderella, Dorian Gray and The Nutcracker. The only British director to have won a Tony Award for both best choreographer and best director of a musical, he started training to be a dancer comparatively late aged 22.

Matthew said he has always had a theatrical and narrative element to his work, having spent much of his teenage years not attending dance school but absorbing as much theatre as he could find.

'I loved the theatre,' he says, 'when I was a teenager. I lived it. I used to wait outside theatres for the cast to come out. I went round to the stage door, looking for autographs. The theatre was a bewitching place for me.'

Unlike any of his contemporaries he did not attend any dance training academy or ballet school. 'I did a number of jobs while I sorted out my future. I was a filing clerk for the BBC, I sold tickets for Keith Prowse ticket agency and I was an usher and a member of the bookshop staff at the National Theatre.

'I did anything to keep myself in touch with the theatre.'

Despite his lack of formal dance training, Matthew started directing young dance companies, which led him to enrol at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance in 1982. He graduated three years later with a BA in Dance Theatre – an important distinction for his work that followed. Upon graduation Matthew hit the ground running and with friends Emma Gladstone and David Massingham set up his first company, Adventures in Motion Pictures.

He quickly developed a reputation not only as an innovative and daring director and choreographer but as someone who put the audience at the heart of the work.

For 14 years he danced in many of this own productions, before retiring from the stage in 1999. His final performance was playing The Private Secretary in the Broadway production of Swan Lake.

From 1987 to 2002, he ran Adventures in Motion Pictures, which became one of the UK's most innovative and popular companies, creating an enormous new audience for dance with its work both at home and internationally.

Then, in 2002, along with co-director, Robert Noble, he launched his current company, New Adventures. Looking back at the last 25 years, Matthew admits it has disappeared in a bit of a blur. 'It was a bit of an eye-opener remounting three of my early works for the tour. It really brought home to me how quickly time has gone. It doesn't seem that long ago but indeed 25 years have passed. I still enjoy it now as much as I ever did. It has been fun doing Play Without Words again.'

As well as Play Without Words, he has also been touring a revival of three of his earliest works. And reviving works, he realises he has changed as a choreographer. Before, he modelled many of the pieces on his own body and his own performance style, whereas now he is more open to new ideas and experiments more.

'Going back to these old pieces has been quite liberating in a way. It's made me want to try more small-scale stuff again.'

He added that while looking back it was important that he and his current company, New Adventures, look ahead. They are currently working on a new production of Sleeping Beauty, which will open later this year.

Bourne dissolved Adventures in Motion Pictures in 2002 and created the new company, which was designed to build upon his previous successes.

During this period he created a new dance work, Edward Scissorhands, based on the classic Tim Burton film and turned Oscar Wilde's story of Dorian Gray into a ballet.

In 2006 Matthew Bourne was invited to become resident artist at Sadler's Wells and New Adventures became the resident company. In addition to work for his own outfit, Matthew leapt at the opportunity to work in the world of musical theatre, taking up offers to choreograph big West End productions like Cameron Macintosh's revival of Oliver!, Sir Trevor Nunn's re-staging of My Fair Lady, the National Theatre's production of South Pacific and he co-directed, with Richard Eyre, the West End hit Mary Poppins.

In terms of inspiration he has always kept an open mind. 'I was never inspired just by dance. In fact I didn't start dance training until I was 22, which is very old for a dancer, but I was always putting on shows – even from the age of four or five.

'I would put on versions of things that I had seen. If I had been to the cinema to see Lady and the Tramp or Mary Poppins I would do my own version. I loved doing sketches and song and dance routines – so it was all in there from the word go.'

He added that one of the best developments in recent years is the way that theatre and dance have grown together. 'You use different methods of delivery to tell the story – you use whatever is best for the show. I'm all for mixing and celebrating people who are experts in different fields of dance.'

He is currently working on Sleeping Beauty ready for its premiere in Norwich in November. 'It is still Tchaikovsky but it is my take on the fairy story,' he says on what we can expect. 'It is very gothic but features different time periods.'

He adds: 'It is a brand new production and we thought it would be great to end this 25th year with something completely new and exciting.'

? Matthew Bourne's Play Without Words, Norwich Theatre Royal, August 7-11, �36.50-�6.50, 01603 630000,