“Make sure you ask him about Swan Lake,” says my Editor ahead of my interview with choreographer Matthew Bourne. “I saw Swan Lake at the Palace Theatre in 1996 and was mesmerised.”
As Helen recalls this memory I smile to myself, reminded why I love theatre and performance – it’s pure magic. Your mind bends to what you thought impossible, speaking to you through more than words, and moves you so you emerge from the auditorium as a different person. And with every new project, the audience and the creative team evolve further. So how has the UK’s most popular and successful choreographer kept going strong for almost 30 years?
“I’m constantly thinking about what can be next all the time,” says Bourne. “When I’m watching something on TV or a film, or reading a book, I’m thinking whether there’s a story there and eventually I hit on something.”
As Bourne explains this he exudes a genuine passion, and it becomes apparent that this is the driving force behind his astonishing accomplishments. Along with a long list of awards and critical acclaim, Bourne has the magic touch when it comes to injecting a familiar story with raw magnetism to create something fresh and tenacious.
Expanding classics beyond their limits, Bourne has staged dance adaptations of, among others, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Edward Scissorhands and has, most recently, reprised one of the most requested performances of his career: The Car Man.
“The Car Man is a dance thriller which is based on the music from the opera Carmen. With it being based on the music and the melodies there are a lot of twists and turns to surprise people, and do what any thriller should do.”
First performed in 2000 The Car Man is a loose adaptation of Bizet’s Carmen, famous for its instantly recognisable score. Reimagined and now set in 1960s America, the dreams and passions of a small town are shattered by the arrival of a handsome stranger. Fuelled by heat and desire, “the show is quite raunchy” says Bourne. “It’s not what you expect a dance show to be. If you come and expect a ballet I think you’ll have a surprise and I think that’s why people keep wanting to see it.”
I ask Bourne what first inspired him to create this new world for the opera.
“The music. Music is a big deal for me when it comes to inspiration. It’s the same with a script – the music has to be able to deliver and this score is brilliant. When we first made it, I wanted to do something raw and something earthy that was close to the audience as people. Carmen has a raw sound to it and that’s what inspired me to do it. Its familiarity was something an audience can grab on to and the music served the story I wanted to tell.”
Starting his dance training at the comparatively late age of 22, Bourne danced professionally for 14 years before becoming a director and choreographer. Technically speaking, what does he try to include within his work?
“I try to draw upon the period in which the piece is set to create the style and movement ideas. The Car Man is more contemporary and every move serves a purpose. I don’t like lots of turns and long leg lifts for no reason.”
Nearing the end of our talk I remember I must ask about Swan Lake, noted for Bourne’s radical decision – and, at the time, controversial – to have the traditionally female parts of the swans danced by men. Congratulating him on the production’s 20th anniversary, I note that it’s the longest running ballet on the West End and Broadway. But has it worn thin for Bourne?
“It was such a daring and bold thing when I did it,” Bourne recalls. “Lots of people couldn’t accept the male swans, but it felt right, why shouldn’t it be played by men?” When I extend my Editor’s praise Bourne says: “It’s really loved in the UK and it got bigger and went internationally. It changed my life, it’s amazing.”
By Kate Morris
The Car Man is at The Lowry in Salford until May 30, 2015
For more tour dates, follow this link: http://new-adventures.net/the-car-man/tour-dates
Read Northern Soul’s review of The Car Man at The Lowry click here