Liam dances his way into Matthew Bourne's very modern fairytale
PUBLISHED: 09:11 20 November 2012 | UPDATED: 09:17 20 November 2012
He was a real life Billy Elliot and was also the first person to play the character on stage. Now Liam Mower is appearing in Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH reports.
His own story reads like a fairytale — he was just nine when he started dancing and less than three years later was performing the lead role in an award-winning West End show.
Liam Mower, 20, who arrives in Norwich this month to play the roles of Count Lilac and the Tantrum Fairy in Matthew Bourne’s new ballet Sleeping Beauty, has a story most would-be dancers can only dream about.
As a young child, he had no desire at all to slip on his ballet shoes and take to the stage. In fact, he admits, the thought had never occurred to him.
“Before then I had other hobbies and interests,” he says. “I have three brothers and they are all really sporty. I did play rugby and I was taken along to other sports too but I hated them.
“Then they decided to try me with gymnastics. That was good because it was a sport but it was like an art as well. When I was nine, my nan suggested I might also like to dance. I had a friend who did it so I went along and absolutely loved it. From then on I didn’t stop.”
Liam’s talent quickly became apparent and after just two years of doing ballet, he was invited to perform in new West End show Billy Elliot.
“It was my first major production,” he recalls. “I was just 12 at the time and was oblivious to the enormity of it and had no idea how big the show would become.”
“Big” is, of course, an understatement. Billy Elliott the Musical went on to win numerous Tony and Olivier Awards and, to date, has been seen by more than eight million people worldwide.
Liam himself performed at The Royal Variety Performance and was awarded a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical.
“I loved it; for me, it was such an amazing experience – I feel very privileged to have done it. It was also the first step towards what I wanted to do.”
Since then, Liam’s career has taken off. He continued his training at the Royal Ballet’s boarding school before going on to become a student at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance. In 2011, he toured with Rambert Dance Company, performing Itzik Galili’s A Linha Curva.
But, he says, he had long admired the work of world-renowned choreographer Matthew Bourne and longed to work with him.
“I have always thought his work was fantastic and when I auditioned for his Nutcracker! and was lucky enough to be cast, it was everything I had every hoped for,” he says. “Since then, I have also been in Play Without Words and working with Matthew has been so exciting.
“He has such diverse dancers, who come from such different places. There is a real variety within the company.”
This version of Sleeping Beauty, which is being staged at the Theatre Royal from November 20-24, is inspired by the music of Tchaikovsky but in true Bourne style there are some very definite twists on the tale.
The production begins in 1890, the year of the ballet’s very first performance, and has a distinctive gothic feel.
As the heroine Aurora becomes a young woman, the piece moves into the Edwardian period, capturing the blissful era of croquet on the lawn and new dance crazes, before coming up to date when she awakes from her 100-year slumber.
“It is fun doing a completely new show,” says Liam, who has never visited Norwich before but has heard how attractive it is.
“My two roles are very different. They are both male fairies but while Tantrum is playful at times and moody at others, Count Lilac is the King of the Fairies and is quite vampiric.”
He adds: “What I love is the way that Matthew brings out elements that weren’t there in the classical ballet. Anything can happen when Matthew is involved.
“There is also always a strong narrative, which means the parts really call for acting, as well as dancing.”
While continuing to dance, Liam has dipped his toe into the world of straight acting, taking on, for example, the role of Mikey Adams in the popular ITV crime series Wire in the Blood. And he doesn’t rule out trying for other stage and screen roles in the future.
“I do enjoy the acting – before Billy Elliot, both singing and acting were completely new to me,” he says.
But, he adds: “There are so many more parts in Matthew Bourne productions I would love to play, from The Prince in Swan Lake to The Angel in Cinderella.
“Dancing is what I want to concentrate on now – and I will always really be a dancer.”
t Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, Norwich Theatre Royal, November 20-24, £37.50-£6.50, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
TCHAIKOVSKY TO TWILIGHT
Sleeping Beauty is the third visit to the Theatre Royal by Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company in 2012 — following Nutcracker! and Play Without Words — and culminates their 25th anniversary year.
Bourne, 52, is arguably the most successful choreographer in the world, known for his radical updates of classic works. His latest re-imagining sees him return to the music of Tchaikovsky to complete the trio of the composer’s ballet masterworks that started in 1992 with Nutcracker!, which visited Norwich in March, and — most famously — in 1995, with the international hit Swan Lake.
Perrault’s timeless fairytale, about a young girl cursed to sleep for one hundred years, was turned into a legendary ballet by Tchaikovsky and choreographer Marius Petipa in 1890.
Bourne takes this date as his starting point, setting the Christening of Aurora, the story’s heroine, in the year of the ballets first performance; the height of the Fin-de-Siecle period when fairies, vampires and decadent opulence fed the gothic imagination.
As Aurora grows into a young woman, we move forwards in time to the more rigid, uptight Edwardian era; a mythical golden age of long Summer afternoons, croquet on the lawn and new dance crazes. Years later, awakening from her century long slumber, Aurora finds herself in the modern day; a world more mysterious and wonderful than any fairy story.
Bourne’s haunting new scenario both updates and builds upon the gothic fairytale: the traditional tale of good vs. evil and rebirth turned upside-down, creating a supernatural love story. He admits it is inspired by the TV series Twilight and True Blood as much as Tchaikovsky.
The vampire theme is worn lightly, he promises, but Sleeping Beauty is a fascinating metaphor for teen sexuality.
“It doesn’t take you long to make the connections — the letting of blood, the girl becoming a woman, that whole idea of lethargy in teenagers,” he told the Evening Standard recently. “The period when they don’t quite want to grow up and become who they’re going to be. They want to sleep all the time, stay in their room. And also running through the story is the idea of parents overprotecting children. We have the King and Queen guarding the Princess, literally, from the curse.”