British director and choreographer Matthew Bourne has won an astounding amount of awards for his work, and he was recently knighted for his “service to dance.”
Bourne has made a career out of adapting popular movies, novels and operas into dance productions. He’s probably best known for his version of “Swan Lake,” which featured a bevy of male swans, but he’s also adapted Tim Burton’s “Edward Scissorhands" and novels like “Lord of the Flies.”
Though Bourne's productions involve no acting - at least not through speaking - they usually follow the story of the original pretty closely. Which is why critics find it difficult to assign a genre:
People refer to this as a ballet. I don't really think it's a ballet. I think it's a piece of theater. But people's idea of what ballet is is very different. So for some people, it's tutus and pointe shoes and "Swan Lake." And for other people, it is just a story told without words, through movement. So definitions have always been an issue with me.
Bourne's newest work is an adaptation of the 1948 film, “The Red Shoes,” which is at the Ahmanson Theatre until October 1. The choreographer recently joined the Frame's John Horn in studio to discuss the show's development and the tricky process of adapting beloved works.
Below are excerpts from John Horn's interview with Bourne. To hear the full conversation, click on the player above or get The Frame's podcast on iTunes.
How being a self-taught dancer shapes his work:
Bourne: I didn't get into dance - I mean ballet and contemporary dance - until late teens. Before that I was a big theater lover and a movie lover. And I was a self-taught dancer. I think that period of time before I learned more about that sort of dance is still feeding into the work I'm doing now. I think if I started dance when I was very young, the subject matter of my work would be dance and movement invention. Whereas for me, it's much more about storytelling and I think that's my connection with audiences really, is that my likes and my passions are a bit similar to theirs, to the wider audience. I love movies and I love great theater, and that's what I'm trying to do.
On assigning his dancers homework:
Bourne: I had the good fortune of working with some great theater directors early on in my career - Trevor Nunn, Richard Eyre. And I learned a lot through how they worked with actors in the musical theater that I did. And I kind of brought those ideas to my dance productions, so I get them to do lots of research. And Trevor's idea was always that there are no small characters, that everyone had a life story and a fully-rounded character no matter how small the part. So they all do research. They research the era and they write their life stories. So they know who they are, who they like, who they don't like, who they've had formerly had relationships with. There's a whole history with them and the other characters as well that makes the whole thing a lot richer.
The importance of cultivating a diverse audience:
Bourne: The audience of the future needs to be developed. People need to be excited about coming to see this sort of work. I'm not saying anything against the older audience - they're a very valued audience and they're regulars. But you do need to get the young people in. Next week, we're doing a schools performance... we're very happy to do it because we know that there could be young people in the audience seeing something like this for the first time and it could just trigger something in them that says, "That's for me. That's what I want to do with my life." Or they just have a great experience, you know, want to come back to the theater and see more. It's so important.
Matthew Bourne's "The Red Shoes" is at the Ahmanson Theatre until October 1. You can find more information here.