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6 April 2008
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Matthew Bourne

Spotlight on Matthew Bourne

Choreographer and Dance Director

In a funny way you can't be taught choreography, it's an expression of yourself. Be true to yourself.

Director and choreographer Matthew Bourne is a Olivier Award and Tony Award winner. Matthew has a BA (Hons) degree and received an OBE for services to dance. He was given the prestigious Hamburg Shakespeare Award for the Arts and is the only second dance artist to receive this. In 2002 Matthew started up his own company New Adventures. Matthew's production of Swan Lake is now legendary.

Poppy: When did you know that you wanted to be a dancer?

Matthew Bourne : Well, I didn't actually start training until I was 22. I had really enjoyed watching dance in musicals and films before that. By the time I got to my teens I thought I was too old. I did a degree course at the age of 22, because I thought I might have a career in the world of dance, but not necessarily as a dancer. I thought it would give me a range of skills and knowledge to do with dance. I did in fact have a career as a dancer for a while and I danced in my own pieces for a bit before I became a choreographer.

Clara: When did you first get the idea for the Swan Lake production?

Matthew Bourne : I knew the classical ballet very well, having watched it many times. While I watched it, I kind of imagined it in a different way, never thinking for one moment that I would ever have the opportunity to do it. However, when I did get the opportunity, I just went for it. I tried to get into the Prince's head a bit. Looking at swans, they seem more male to me than female.

F9: When did you see your first ballet and what was it?

Matthew Bourne : That's easy, it was Swan Lake and I was 19. The reason I saw it was for self-education. I had left school and I wanted to open my mind to different things. I thought I should go and see a ballet, because I had never seen one. It was the Canadian Ballet visiting Covent Garden in 1979, doing a version of Swan Lake. It was kind of wonderful, but not pretty.

Poppy: So your family weren't into ballet, you just got interested on your own?

Matthew Bourne : There was no pressure from my family. I had been doing amateur dance shows from the age of five onwards. I don't come from a theatrical background.

Clara: Do you think the fact you have been a performer too, has made you a better director?

Matthew Bourne : Definitely, yeah! I think I started to choreograph better, when I was not in the pieces. I think understanding how to perform is essential. To be able to pass that on to younger dancers is very important. I also think that starting late in dance was a good thing. I had done other things, so I had more to call upon and it made the subject matter more interesting.

F9: How do you get people who aren't usually interested in dance to go along and see a show or even take up dancing themselves?

Matthew Bourne : Well, I do try and make shows that are for everyone, rather than for ballet fans. I try to imagine people who are going to see a film or play. I think it's about story-telling and having people on stage who look like real people and who don't look like clones. If you can identify with the performers and the story, then you are going to be able to win people over. I always like to experiment. It's not at the top of my list, but the chance to try and to be able to fail at things is important. Play without Words was a nice opportunity to experiment. So much I do now has to work, because we are the only dance company that is not funded. We have to make money in order to survive. So the chance to experiment is really important to me.

Daisy: I think most dance performances are too expensive for most people to go to. Would you agree?

Matthew Bourne : I'm sure other dance places do their best to get people in. Sadler's Wells and the National Theatre attract audiences from a great cross-section of people. I think I would feel quite uncomfortable if all my performances were at the Royal Opera House, where it tends to be more expensive for seats.

Media_girl: What do you think are the most vital skills you need to be a choreographer?

Matthew Bourne : Well, I would say you need to be aware of what's going on in the rest of the arts world. You need to fill your mind with ideas. See a lot and read a lot. You need to see other great choreographers' work frequently. In a funny way you can't be taught choreography, it's an expression of yourself. Be true to yourself. If it feels right to you then you are probably on the right track.

F9: Can you tell us more about the Edward Scissorhands project?

Matthew Bourne : Yes, it's going to happen in 2005. The music is going to be written by Danny Elfman, who wrote the score to the film. We are billing it as a cutting edge musical. I think the idea of Edward Scissorhands gets enough people excited, for people to come and see it. Tim Burton is behind the project so it is very likely you will see some imagery from the film. Tim has been very supportive and it's great that he has allowed me to do it. He's a film man and the only stipulation that he made was that it not be like the other shows he had seen.

TK: Who have been your role models, people you have looked up to as your career has developed?

Matthew Bourne : Fred Astaire was my first idol, he was genius. I loved a lot of dancers in the old movies, in MGM musicals of the 40s and 50s. Fredrick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan, who are choreographers and also countless film-makers like Alfred Hitchcock. I did a film noir piece called The Car Man. Virtually every piece I have done as had film imagery in it, so I would say film has had a big influence on me, almost more than dance has.

Dan: Do you run auditions for your shows? What do you look for in dancers you hire?

Matthew Bourne : They have to have their three to four years training. They have to be graduates of a good dance school - that will make me see them. Then in their audition, I look for someone who is individual. I watch how they get on with people. I have to try and imagine how they are going to work with other people. They could be fantastic dancers, but I need to know that they have personality too. You've got to have more in the theatre; more than just technique!

TK: What is the most embarrassing /funniest thing that has happened to you or anyone while working?

Matthew Bourne : In our The Nutcracker there is a scene where all the men have to come on shirtless and wearing long trousers. There are six of them that come on after a quick change. There clothes were not set out in time, so they all decided to come on in their Y-fronts. It was quite a shock for the person playing Clara. That's what's great about theatre. Things do go wrong all the time. It's human nature. There is a bit at the end of The Nutcracker where Clara and her friend escape from the orphanage. They make a line of sheets to climb down and one evening there were no sheets ready, so they just had to jump.

Media_girl: Do you believe that dancers have to have a certain height, weight and good looks to make it?

Matthew Bourne : No! I mean within reason. I like dancers who look like real people. If people come and see my company they will see very tall, very short, more rounder and a racial mix of people. Within reason, they have to be able to dance. For me it's a bonus. I've employed very tall girls and very short men, who have found it impossible to get work elsewhere. They are very talented, but can't get the work elsewhere.

F9: When you get a good idea for a show, who do you try your idea out on first?

Matthew Bourne : It's funny sometimes with an idea as soon as I put into words it does not sound good. With dance you have to really think it out in your head first before you can talk about it. I will try it out on people I have worked with for a long time. Some of the dancers and old friends, ultimately you only have yourself, if you are convinced it is a good idea you just have to try it!

Media_girl: Do you listen to music a lot? Are there any musicians you would really like to work with?

Matthew Bourne : Well most of the ones I worked with so far have been dead a long time. I have worked with one living composer, Terry Davis, on Play without Words. There is Rufus Wainright who I would really like to work with, he is a songwriter and musician and comes from a folk background. It needs to be music that can tell a story for me. It's needs to be dramatic.

Lightfoot: You've had great reviews. Does that make you happy? Does it mean a lot to you?

Matthew Bourne : The Nutcracker has had better reviews than last year. Play without Words has had fantastic reviews, but I never read any of them. I know it is just better for me to not look, even when they are good. The temptation for me is enormous. It does make you feel better, because they do help sell the show. Everyone has mixed feelings about reviews I think. It's a little bit like being on trial on your first night. It is that nerve wracking and it's public too. It can get to you, so I choose not to look.

F9: How did you feel when Swan Lake went to Broadway, what was that like?

Matthew Bourne : It was wonderful in many ways. Obviously, I wasn't reading reviews at that time! It was an absolute thrill, something undreamt of for someone like me. It was an ambition fulfilled for all of us that went. It is very competitive there, much more so than here. They either embrace you or don't. I love the American audiences. I've played LA a lot which I really like. You get all the movie stars coming to see you.

Media_girl: When you choreograph do you always start from the music or can you have an idea or a movement and choose the music afterwards?

Matthew Bourne : I almost always start with the music. Generally, I work with famous music, so I need to be true to the music, so I don't upset people to much. They have feelings and strong ideas associated with the music. In the project with the National Theatre Play without Words the music was worked out with the choreography. That was a new thing for me and quite scary. I worked very closely with the composer that time.

F9: Why did you decide to set up New Adventures?

Matthew Bourne : Adventures in Moving Pictures (AMP) was my old company and it was getting a little too big. It needed productions to multiply to survive. To reproduce shows without maybe the best cast. I was conscious that everything I did had to make money. I wanted to do something that would not have that responsibility and to have the opportunity to experiment and the chance to fail. With New Adventures I could do that. Each of our current projects is done with different management. I have the artistic control, but not the financial burden.

Media_girl: What would be your dream project?

Matthew Bourne : Next year I'm co-directing Mary Poppins, which will be in London next December. I'm currently working on that.

Dan: Do you think being 22 when you started dance college held you back in anyway? It doesn't seem to have!

Matthew Bourne : I suppose as a dancer it would have done. I thought I was not very employable as a dancer when I left college. I was very enthusiastic. The reason why I did dance for thirteen years was because I choreographed my own work. I would not have been a very good tool for another choreographer. I would say go for it. Look at me. I just so wanted to do it. I was fascinated by it. Even in my third year I had concerns. In my fourth year, I got some work experience with a dance company, The Laban Centre's Transitions Dance Company, which encouraged me to set up a company. I've always run a company I've never been a freelance dancer. We formed the company so we could work. For the first five years of the company, we all had part-time jobs. We weren't making a living from it. It really is having dedication that counts - sticking with it!

TK: What is an average day like for you?

Matthew Bourne : If it is an evening show they will come in at about four. If it is a rehearsal day they will come in about two and we would do the show in the evening. There are notes to be done. You work most of the day. We do three evenings a week, it is quite intense.

Merry_Blast_Xmas: How many awards have you won and what does it mean to you to win them, how does it make you feel?

Matthew Bourne : Well to begin with it was very exciting. It is always nice to win something. It's not the reason why you do it. We have won lots of awards. After Swan Lake won so many awards, people started saying 'wouldn't it be nice to win one for something else'. Deep down I enjoy it. It's like getting a good review. It can help make the show more successful.

Gancho: When you choreograph a ballet, is it from scratch? What inspires your choreography and ideas?

Matthew Bourne : I would never start from scratch. By the time I get to rehearsal, I would know the music inside out. I would have the story written out scene by scene. Details of the characters written out and I would have a lot of research material planned out. Films I would want the dancers to see, places for them to go etc. The movement is the last thing that happens. I need dancers to get a feel for what we are doing. The dance is the last thing that happens.

Lightfoot: Are you excited that your show is going to be on TV?

Matthew Bourne : I'm told it is the first full dance piece to be on BBC1 for the last twenty years. If it reaches a wide audience that's fantastic! The actual live performance runs until 24 January, so hopefully more people will come to the live performance too.

Media_girl: Who designed the costumes for The Nutcracker? Did you have any say in them? They are brilliant!

Matthew Bourne : Anthony Ward is the designer. You always collaborate with the designer. His interpretation of my idea of the character is totally his. It's great with The Nutcracker, because you can really let you imagination run riot. I think he loved the opportunity to work on the ballet.

F9: Will you get a chance to relax this Christmas, what do you think you will be doing? Will you have to work? Will you be having a big Christmas party?

Matthew Bourne : Yep, I have a party for my two companies. That's going to be a lot of people at my house. We will sing carols around the piano. There is going to be about 200 people there, a full house. It's nice to say thanks to everyone.

Blast_Host: Any final tips for wannabe dancers and choreographers?

Matthew Bourne : Don't just close your mind off to just dance. Keep your options opened. See a lot of work. Don't just dance, watch dance. Watch a lot of different types of dance, everything, flamenco, tap, ballet everything! Don't be put off by starting too late in life, only do it because you want to do it. Don't be worried about the way you look. Everyone can dance, there are people out there who want to see you dance, me for one!

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