March 5, 2012
Matthwe Bourne in conversation at the Oxford Playhouse | Fri 2nd March 2012
Matthew Bourne is the saviour of every reluctant ballet-goer. He feels your pain.
His background of one man shows in draughty Hackney church halls (his mother’s cuppa and biscuit free with every paid ticket), of ‘doing a number’ as a primary school pupil, of musicals, film and wide reading: whatever it takes to interest you, he will hook you with it - and laughter is his secret weapon. ‘If you laugh, you connect’, Bourne says. ‘I want people to find a way in. I want them to ‘get it’. I love hearing an audience react.’
Bourne refuses to print synopses in his show programmes. He wants an audience to work for the meaning themselves – and take out of it something positive. His work references so many ideas that, when challenged to justify their inclusion – whether film, ballet, musical, news item – he simply says: ‘Because I love it’.
Coming late to dance at the age of 22, Bourne has been an aspiring actor, National Theatre bookshop employee, BBC filing clerk (obituaries), and inspirational founder of a ballet company so small that it most closely resembled a travelling theatre repertory company. It was ‘a company of friends.’ Its name: Adventures in Moving Pictures. For ten years, Bourne choreographed while supplementing his income at the National Theatre book shop. It was some time after that - he can't recall when - that money ceased to be of overriding concern, with commissions coming thick and fast. When Bourne’s iconic all-male Swan Lake not only sold out in London and Broadway, but was seen by an even wider audience in Stephen Daldry’s film Billy Elliot, success became hugely problematic. ‘We were too small - not enough dancers to cope with injuries, an eight performance week and struggling all the time to put on a good show,’ Bourne says. ‘I’ve learned from that, and we can now have a company big enough to rotate dancers, so it’s not so hard on too few.’
Hugely engaging, witty and self-deprecating despite his huge success in popularising dance, Bourne speaks of his ever present fear that ‘no one will turn up’. In reworking three of his earliest pieces, Spitfire, The Infernal Gallop and Town and Country for touring the UK this summer (including Oxford, June 11-13), Bourne has a ‘muscular memory’ of them because he originally worked out each move using his own body in front of a mirror. ‘I know how they feel’, he says. This time around he is working with dancers whose techniques he is familiar with. ‘We can talk about it, try things out,’ Bourne says. In this way, choreographers can keep working until old age, long after their own dancing careers are over. Long may this apply to Matthew Bourne.