Popular dance version of a modern-day fairytale

Ahead of hit dance show Edward Scissorhands opening in Bradford next week, Nick Ahad spoke to choreographer Matthew Bourne.
Dominic North stars as Edward Scissorhands. Picture: Johan PerssonDominic North stars as Edward Scissorhands. Picture: Johan Persson
Dominic North stars as Edward Scissorhands. Picture: Johan Persson

When he was a child Matthew Bourne was “that” kid. The one who put on shows and charged the adults in the street an entrance fee.

“I was five or six and I’d get all the other kids in the street involved. I was always in charge and the star of the show – and people had to pay to come and watch – I had an eye on business even then.”

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These days you’ll pay a lot more for a ticket to a Matthew Bourne show – although you won’t get to see him on stage.

You might, however, catch a glimpse of him in the bar of the venue where his shows are performed these days. When New Adventures – the company Bourne heads up – is in town, he goes with it.

“Some directors just leave the show to go out on the road, but it’s a company of dancers who I have trained and nurtured. I’m always thinking about their work and what they’re doing on stage and what they’re going to be doing next,” says Bourne.

“I try to keep the shows alive and fresh, there’s always something new to be doing with the company. Plus I like to stay in touch with the venue and with the audiences who see my shows.” It’s that sort of constant dedication – some might say obsession – that has allowed Bourne to stay at the top of his game for such a long time. His all-male Swan Lake in 1995 changed everything.

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While some were unhappy at such an absolute classic being tampered with, turning the piece into a piece that was unmistakably Bourne was the start of an incredible success for the choreographer. There are those in the classical dance world who look down on his work – Bourne’s dancers eschew pointe work and the productions are sometimes a little ‘too’ popular. “We try to tell stories without saying a single word. I always loved movies and plays, and dance for me combined those two art forms,” says Bourne.

“I discovered that I could tell a story through things that were very primal. Everyone understands the body and facial expressions – we all just get those things.

“I think audiences were sometimes scared because they think dance is not for them, but I think people are becoming less afraid to try it.”

They certainly are. Audiences continue to turn out in their thousands to see his work. Last year, when the Bradford Alhambra celebrated its centenary, Bourne’s Swan Lake was an essential part of the celebrations – and it sold out before it arrived.

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It returns to the venue next week with one of Bourne’s most popular recent successes, Edward Scissorhands.

How popular? Johnny Depp said: “I teetered on the verge of tears throughout.” Yes, the production arriving in Bradford next week is Johnny Depp-endorsed.

Did Bourne ever believe he would have such a hit on his hands?

“It sounded crazy to some people, to turn Edward Scissorhands into a ballet, but it always made a lot of sense to me,” he says.

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“Edward is virtually a silent movie star. It lends itself to the character discovering the world in a very visual way. And I always felt like the Danny Elfman score was something that sounded like you could dance to.”

It was a seven-year journey to bring the show to the stage, but Bourne’s determination paid off and in 2005 the story of Edward Scissorhands came to the stage.

“We replicate a lot of the fantastical images audiences have seen in the film – the haircuts, the topiary. It’s low tech – stage magic can be very simple – but it’s magic.”

• Alhambra February 24-28.