Curtain Call: Evaluating the Bourne Identity After 25 Years

Director and choreographer Matthew Bourne takes a stab at “Sleeping Beauty.”

Rightly or wrongly, director and choreographer Matthew Bourne will forever be identified with his 1995 reworking of Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake that featured all-male swans. Since then, he has turned such diverse pieces as Bizet’s opera Carmen, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands into ballets. Last week, Sleeping Beauty, Tchaikovsky’s third ballet (The Nutcracker being the other) opened at the Ahmanson Theatre. Bourne has taken the story of a young girl awakened by a prince’s kiss after sleeping for a hundred years by adding puppet babies and vampires.

“It was an unusual one for me. I entered into it without the usual big idea,” he says over coffee in the lobby of a downtown hotel the day before opening. “I did it more through research and really working at it. On and off over eighteen years I’d say ‘Let’s have another listen to it and see what comes up.’ But the actual decision to do it was two-and-a-half years ago. It’s good to say it out loud because then you have to do it.” 

Having done the other two ballets by Tchaikovsky, does Bourne feel like it’s the end of an era now that he’s finally doing the third? “I don’t know that it’s the end of an era. It was our 25th anniversary. I was looking to end that year, where we had revived several things like The Nutcracker and Play Without Words, with something new. The dance critic at the New York Times told me I’m the only one to do new productions of all three.”

With no more Tchaikovsky ballet scores left to interpret, Bourne has to look elsewhere for inspiration. “The composer I’d really like to work with is Bernard Herrmann because I don’t think [his work] has been used in that theatrical way. Film composers are quite interesting because they write music to tell a story. The difference is they work with two or three themes over the film. I’m not sure whether to develop a new story around his music or pick a specific film and go that way.” 

Also on the drawing board is The Red Shoes, “because I love the surreal nature of it in a way,” he says.  “I think you can do something interesting with that.  And I love the theme of love versus art.  I think that’s quite a good dance topic.  The big emotions work very well for non-verbal story-telling.”

 Though movies clearly inspire him and are influences in his work, he frets the time he’s spent away from Los Angeles.  “I’m a bit worried that we haven’t been here for too long.  I’d like to have come more regularly and I have tried.  We’re expensive to bring over.  We have big sets, lots of costumes, a big British company that has to be put up.  I absolutely love doing this.  But I’d also like to be doing a smaller experimental type of piece that maybe wouldn’t go out on a big tour.  You need help with those things.  If anyone out there wants to commission me to a do a quirky dance piece…here I am.”

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