SWAN LAKE 3D Special Interview: Matthew Bourne
Today we are kicking off our special three-part series on the movie theater presentation of Matthew Bourne's SWAN LAKE in 3D on Tuesday, March 20 in Fathom-equipped cinemas throughout the US with the director and choreographer of the new production of the classic Tchaikovsky ballet, Tony-winner Matthew Bourne. In this all-encompassing conversation, Bourne and I discuss the inspiration behind his gender-bending vision for SWAN LAKE and how this new 3D film presentation is the ultimate production of the piece to date. Additionally, Bourne and I discuss how this new version differs from the original ballet as seen on Broadway in the mid-1990s and how leads Richard Winsor and Nina Goldman have brought new life and a style all their own to their pivotal roles. Plus, Bourne shares exciting news about his upcoming ballet rendering of SLEEPING BEAUTY and possibility of presenting that in 3D sometime soon, in addition to taking a look back at his past ballet work, such as THE CAR MAN, DORIAN GRAY, PLAY WITHOUT WORDS, Edward Scissorhands, CINDERELLA, as well as his experiences choreographing West End and Broadway musicals such as CHILDREN OF EDEN, MARY POPPINS and OLIVER! Plus, Bourne shares his fascinating insights into prior dramatic renderings of ballet on film, such as THE TURNING POINT, SUSPIRIA and BLACK SWAN. All of that and much, much more!
Further information about SWAN LAKE 3D in select movie theaters nationwide on March 20 is available here.
Stay tuned to BroadwayWorld for upcoming interviews in this series with SWAN LAKE 3D stars Nina Goldman and Richard Winsor coming up early next week!
En Pointe In 3D
PC: When Ruthie Henshall did this column, we discussed the West End production of CHILDREN OF EDEN and your work as choreographer on it. That show seemed to be ahead of its time, was it not? What are your memories of it?
MB: I think it probably was. Well, it was my first musical, really. I remember that the cast was fantastic - there were lots of actors that went on to do bigger things afterwards. I remember Ruthie being there - specifically, I remember she thought my classes were a little bit odd; my warm-ups.
PC: She said precisely the same thing to me!
MB: Yes. Yes. [Laughs.] Ruthie's great, though. Wasn't that her first show?
PC: I believe so. The Stephen Schwartz score was pretty amazing, as well - one of his best.
MB: Yeah, yeah - I agree. It's sort of found its place in community theatre - it works very well with kids playing the animals and all of that. It may have its day at some point, especially since the success of WICKED.
PC: We can hope.
MB: It's never been seen on Broadway, so maybe someone will have an idea of how to do it. You never know.
PC: Was anything you learned in that process, working on a musical, instructive over a decade later with MARY POPPINS?
MB: Oh, my goodness - I don't know. I don't think I remember! My memory just isn't that good, really. [Laughs.] But, yes, there was a gap - a long-ish gap - where I didn't do any musicals.
PC: From the early nineties until the late two-thousands.
MB: Right. I think the thing that I learned the most from working on CHILDREN OF EDEN and, also, some of the musicals I've done is that I got to work with some very, very good directors and I learned from them. I brought that aspect of what I learned to my dance productions.
PC: It's a pretty impressive list of collaborators.
MB: I was working with John Caird, Richard Eyre, Trevor Nunn, Sam Mendes - a lot of very, very good senior directors to learn from. I think that those experiences brought a lot back to this kind of dance that I do - which is what helped made it more widely popular - because it is closer to a musical, actually.
PC: How fascinating. When Nina spoke to me, she said you were a storyteller above all else. Would you agree with that?
MB: Well, I think that one of the things I picked up on from those great directors is how to work with performers - actors - as well as dancers. Of course, all the people in my company are trained dancers - they're not trained actors.
PC: Of course.
MB: That has been something that I have had to learn to get from them. So, it's all very well being a storyteller, as a choreographer, but, the question is, do you have the performers who can tell the story? It can't necessarily all be done through the face and the body - at least not for me, anyway; you know, you have to have some expression there.
PC: Intention behind the action.
MB: Yeah - and, also, sometimes really quite in-depth acting performances. I'm sure Richard has spoken about that as well.
PC: Indeed he has!
MB: That's been the most interesting aspect of how I took what I learned from other directors when I worked on musicals and brought that sensibility to dance. I guess that, even now, when I am giving my company notes, I am very much talking as a theatre director would - about, you know, whether we got the laughs or not; whether we hit the nail on the head with this particular scene; you know, it's not about the steps or the movement, it's about the arch of the evening. Did we get this audience to the place we wanted to get them to? So, it's very much coming at it from an acting point of view. I'm not sure I would have been like that or done that had I not worked outside of dance like I did.
PC: Jerome Robbins was known as a great taskmaster, yet your performers - namely, Richard and Nina - told me you allow some play and experimentation in rehearsals. How do you view that dynamic?
MB: I don't know - I guess that every choreographer works in a different way. I think, because I revise a lot of my work, you have to allow the performers to give something. I think it is a very negative experience to just say, "This is what it is and this is how we did it several years ago, so do it."
PC: It's not a museum piece - it's a re-creation or a re-envisioning.
MB: Yeah, that's not a great way to revive a work. I tend to work with people with whom I am not a tyrant by any means - I want to hear what they have to say and I want to hear their ideas; however experienced or however young they may be, as well. One mistake a lot of people make is that they don't listen to the young, and, you know, that is a big mistake because they are young and they think about things in a different way!
PC: You are open to collaboration.
MB: Yeah, I mean, obviously, I love having experienced performers around, but, I also like the mix.
PC: It can create an even better dynamic.
MB: Yeah, I think there is a great mix created by those with experience and those with fresh ideas who are from a whole other generation. I like that. For me, it's all about keeping your mind, eyes and ears open during rehearsal and listening to what everyone may have to say.
PC: Not quite the Jerome Robbins approach, I don't think!
MB: [Big Laugh.] No, I can't imagine Jerome Robbins did that - or Mr. Balanchine!
PC: Definitely not.
MB: They were a little more clear about what they wanTed Maybe. But, who knows? Maybe Balanchine wanted to see what sort of movement they had to give them and what they would say, maybe - maybe his muses.
PC: Tell me about how dancers age and how over 40 is a death sentence for a dancer a lot of the time - especially in ballet. Nina and I spoke about how difficult it can be.
MB: Yeah - it is. And, well, it's a horrible thing. I think that for many people who are passionate performers - especially as dancers - there are many examples of them where it is like they are grieving for the rest of their lives that they are not performing.
PC: It's a huge loss.
MB: You know, as actors, you can go on forever if you wish to - and get better and better and develop as parts of you mature and age and change. Whereas, you know, with dancers, it's not always the perfect answer for a dancer to become a teacher or a choreographer or a coach because it may all feel second best to them.
PC: What a great insight.
MB: It's a hard life in that way - aging as a dancer - when you have to give up this thing you feel so passionately about. It's something everyone eventually accepts, I guess.
PC: THE TURNING POINT seems to quite eloquently address that topic - the point at which you just can't dance anymore.
MB: Right. Yes, it did.
PC: Tell me about the casting process for the film version of SWAN LAKE 3D and how decided on the ultimate cast. Did you hold auditions?
MB: Well, we actually just finished quite a long tour of it with this particular cast, about two or three months before we filmed it. We brought it to New York and London with this cast, so they were the obvious choice to do the film. We had very, very little time to get the film together, so we needed a full cast of people who absolutely knew every part of the production. With the time scale we had, it was all a bit scary.
PC: Thank goodness you had a corps already assembled.
MB: Yeah, we basically got the same cast together that had recently done it and I think they were a very excellent cast for the film - certainly this is the cast I would want to be seen on film. You know, I was very happy for them to be the cast that would be putting it down again after all these years.
PC: This is the second film you have done of SWAN LAKE, of course.
MB: Right. I did the first film of my SWAN LAKE in 1996.
PC: The SWAN LAKE from the 90s has been on TV a lot in the interim. What has changed in this new 3D film presentation?
MB: Well, for me, I personally find it very difficult to watch the old version - it's just come on so much in the intervening years. It was done prior to the West End; prior to Broadway; prior to all the subsequent productions and tours of it that we have done since. SWAN LAKE was at its very earliest state for me back then when that film was made, so, when I look at it I think, "Oh, my goodness! Oh, my goodness," over and over again. [Laughs.]
PC: It's a little frustrating and nerve-wracking?
MB: Yeah! I mean, of course I love watching some of those original cast people and everything, but, I so wanted it to be filmed again because it really feels like a different piece now.
PC: Plus, this film adds a whole new dimension besides being shown in a movie theater - 3D.
MB: You know, I think that one of the most brilliant things about 3D - especially with everyone sort of looking for product for 3D and finding things that can be filmed; performances are easy to film, in a way, because it already exists and it works particularly well for 3D - is that it gave us the chance to film the piece again. I just jumped at the chance to not only do SWAN LAKE again, but, with the 3D phenomenon, it was, for me, as much about getting the choreography and the production seen as it was it about the 3D.
PC: 3D was the essential element.
MB: Yeah - 3D really was the main reason to do it again besides capturing the final version of it.
PC: Andrew Lloyd Webber told me that the new HD film technology allows for filming precision and quality never available before, so clearly we are entering a new age of filmed theatre and ballet. The Wim Wenders 3D ballet film PINA was a recent success, as well.
MB: Sure. It didn't really occur to me until I watched this that space was such an important element of dance on film. When you see live dance, it's the movement through space and the difference between people - and, that's become very clear in 3D. 3D works particularly well for dance, I think - more than anything else, maybe. But, these were all things that I was unaware of until I actually saw it.
PC: You had some trepidation at the outset of filming, then?
MB: When I agreed to do it, it was like, "Well, let's have a go and see if it works!" [Laughs.]
PC: It was an experiment at that point.
MB: Yeah, and, when I actually saw the first dailies I was so very pleasantly surprised. I think 3D adds so much to the piece and it adds intimacy when you need it and it adds spectacle when you need it and, as I said, it gives you a sense of being within it all; in the space.
PC: In the midst of it.
MB: I have to say, it has really got me excited about starting to think about all the possibilities of doing more things for film and doing something especially for 3D, as opposed to something that already existed in some form.
PC: What an exciting prospect!
MB: Yeah, I really have to admit that it was really a sort of revelation to see it. It was far better than I thought it was going to be.
PC: It really fills a whole movie theater, then? You designed it to fill a stadium, correct?
MB: Yeah, yeah - it's really terrific.
PC: It will be ballet in a whole new way. Are you considering Edward Scissorhands in 3D film in the future, perhaps?
MB: I'd love to, actually. I think it would work extremely well. Obviously, there might be a bit of an issue with the film company given the classic film. We weren't allowed to film it last time we did it, but they might change their minds with the passage of time. I think we are reviving Edward Scissorhands in a couple of years and I'd definitely like to film it. Film is a very different entity from stage and the ballet is a very different entity from the Tim Burton film.
PC: To say the least.
MB: CINDERELLA, that was set during the London blitz - which we did last year - would make a wonderful 3D film experience, I think.
PC: That could be fantastic. Was Tim Burton supportive of your stage ballet adaptation of Edward Scissorhands?
MB: Yes. Tim Burton was actually very, very supportive of our show.
PC: What was the initial inspiration for your SWAN LAKE?
MB: Well, I think that it's about the big idea - as I call it; it all comes down to the big idea. If I am going to take on a much-loved piece that people already know and love - even if it is a musical, to be honest - then what is the big idea with this production? The big idea of this SWAN LAKE was: what if the swans were male instead of female? How would that change the story? What would that do to the story? So, that was the interesting thing, initially, was that, you know, how would this change affect the story of a prince?
PC: Quite a significant shift.
MB: Well, you have to remember, at the time that I made it, royal scandal was a daily thing in our newspapers here - Diana and Fergie and Camilla and Charles; those were the stories going on in 1995. It was intense.
PC: It was a media frenzy, more or less.
MB: Royal scandal with male swans just seemed like a good starting point - especially because the prince wasn't married to the person he was in love with and he had a sense of forbidden love going on.
PC: What an interesting parallel with Charles and Diana.
MB: Well, I never said it was Prince Charles, of course, in the piece! [Laughs.] It wasn't based on the real royal family, but it was something a lot of people were thinking about and it was something that was very much in the press in the time. So, I thought that's what people would pick up a lot on - the royal thing. But, actually, for most people it was all about the swans.
PC: It's timeless for a reason.
MB: It was all to do with an iconic dance image of a ballerina in a tutu with a feather dress and white shoes - it was so embedded in the minds of people who associated that with the ballet that to have that change was something that captured everyone's imagination. Would it work? Could it work? Does it work?
PC: It's a very risky proposition. Why do you think it worked?
MB: I think that our designer came up with such an iconic look for the swans that it really was a viable alternative - you know, it's become a classic sort of look in its own right; the male swan design from our show.
PC: It really has.
MB: It was really a lucky bringing together of ideas, I think. We certainly didn't know that it was going to be the success that it was. There was no way we could know when we were making it that it could possibly do what it did. We just thought we had quite a good idea and we were confidant that the idea was good enough - and that's all we really had. We had a confidence in the way we worked in that we didn't have a lot of confidence that it would be well-received. [Laughs.]
PC: You were once quoted as saying, "making a convincing love duet, a romantic, sexual duet, for two men that is comfortable to do and comfortable to watch - I don't know if you can. I've never seen it done." Have you done it since you said that, do you think?
MB: Well, in this case, I tried to make it particularly relate to the story, so one of them is really playing a creature; one of them is really playing a swan.
PC: Of course.
MB: Later on, though, I addressed those issues a little bit more explicitly, I guess, with DORIAN GRAY, that I did a few years ago - that's where I did a workshop where I tried to explore male relationships; sexual relationships, romantic relationships, love. We tried to address it without cloaking it or pussyfooting around it and seeing if it was too uncomfortable for audiences, or, whether it was something that we accept, as we are increasingly starting to do in this day and age.
PC: Do you think the gender-blind elements of SWAN LAKE are much more accepted by audiences now versus in 1995?
MB: Absolutely! Absolutely. We used to get walk-outs at SWAN LAKE - we were used to lots of complaint. I think people were expecting something else, maybe, and, also, straight men found it very uncomfortable to watch when the swan and the prince started to dance together, I saw. And, anyway, t's not even particularly the sexuality of it, it's more about the idea of someone wanting to be held and wanting to be cared about - I think that's what SWAN LAKE is about in our version. It's much more universal and has much more appeal today, really.
PC: Society has become much more open, for sure.
MB: I think we've been much changed in that time through different things that we've seen in films and on TV - and, just general attitudes and things.
PC: Was your recent experience touring DORIAN GRAY an example of that, would you say?
MB: Oh, yeah. When we toured DORIAN GRAY to packed houses all over the UK, we had the same people who came to see our other pieces and it was ordinary audiences who would usually go to plays and musicals and things - and, they loved it. They didn't comment on the homosexuality, really - they just found it exciting and dramatic. [Pause.] I guess they thought the guys were pretty hot! [Laughs.]
PC: Was it always your intention to have a female play the Queen in SWAN LAKE or did you ever consider a male for that role at any point, now or then?
MB: It was always female - I always loved the idea of the Queen as a character in SWAN LAKE. You know, she's sort of trying to marry the prince off to a suitable princess and there is never an explanation of where the king is. Has he passed on? There's never any explanation of why there isn't a king. The prince is a bit odd because, in those days, wouldn't he be the king? I'm not quite sure what the story is. The Queen is obviously a very powerful figure because she is obviously still reigning. So, yeah, I loved that character and I wanted to see what she would be and how she could affect him as a person. Her coldness is explained by the fact that she is young-ish - for a queen, anyway - and still attractive and has some young men after and still interested in her.
PC: She's still hot.
MB: You know, the son is a bit of an embarrassment because her son is the same age as the men trying to court her. So, her private life is a little bit embarrassing for him, too. It's a great role for a female performer who is a little more mature.
PC: I would love to know: what did you think of BLACK SWAN?
MB: I loved BLACK SWAN. I think I was one of the few people in the dance world who said anything good about it!
PC: There seemed to be quite a few complaints.
MB: I just thought it was a fun movie. I mean, yes, it's intentionally over the top, but, it also captures something true about those ballet companies that people don't seem to want to admit - the sort of madness and the competitiveness for the roles. In my company, we are not like that, but, in a lot of companies, there is definitely sort of that mad competitiveness for roles.
PC: It was just authentic enough to hold together.
MB: Yeah, I mean, I saw it twice and I think it is a very entertaining movie. The argument that I tried to put across to a lot of dance people who kept going on about, you know, whether she was a good enough dancer or whether or not it was authentic to how their lives really were, was, "Who cares? It's a film - it's a piece of entertainment." It looked good enough to me! [Laughs.]
PC: And you are a tough critic with some serious credentials!
MB: To most people she probably looked incredible! It's not a documentary, it's a film - it's a piece of entertainment. So, yeah, I got a little bored with a lot of ballerinas coming out and giving interviews about how awful it was.
PC: It hit too close to home for some, probably, don't you think?
MB: Maybe - I don't know. I will say, I am not like that director! I don't take advantage of my dancers, I promise! [Laughs.]
PC: Speaking of ballet films, one of the great atmospheric horror films of the 70s takes place in the ballet world: SUSPIRIA. Have you seen it?
MB: Yeah - I remember I saw it many years ago. I think I saw it right around when it came out. I have to check it out again.
PC: It had a big influence on BLACK SWAN and Darren Aronofsky, as well.
MB: I actually am going to get on Amazon and check it out now that you've reminded me.
PC: What is next for you? SLEEPING BEAUTY is the next new ballet, yes?
MB: Yes. SLEEPING BEAUTY is next, although I am doing some revivals first because it is the 25th anniversary of our company this year, so I am excited to get started on that after I am done getting those back up.
PC: What can you tell me about your take on SLEEPING BEAUTY?
MB: Well, first of all, I can tell you Aurora is played by a woman. [Laughs.]
PC: You knew that was my first question!
MB: I bet! There are a few surprises I have up my sleeve, as well, for that one.
PC: Is New York the ultimate goal for SLEEPING BEAUTY?
MB: I don't know yet, actually - New York is very hard for us to get to. For some reason, we try and we try and occasionally it works, but I'd love to come over more regularly. I'd love to come to City Center a bit more regularly and hopefully that will happen now - I certainly have a great relationship with that venue.
PC: Needless to say. What's holding you back?
MB: I think it's because it's very expensive bringing over a company as large as mine with such large sets - these enormous productions with sets and costumes where it is normally, you know, a bare, black stage. Maybe they can afford it a little more in the future. I mean, I usually want to bring in very large productions with 20, 30, 40 dancers, so it can be a very expensive prospect. We keep trying; we keep trying.
PC: I hope you take on Brecht & Weill's SEVEN DEADLY SINS someday. Have you ever staged it?
MB: No, I never have staged it, but I have seen some productions of it over the years. It's a great piece, I think, and I know they just revived it in New York, too.
PC: They did and I did a series on it, actually. I hope we see more musical theatre from you in the future, as well - perhaps that Sam Mendes OLIVER! you did the choreography for will be mounted here someday. I think it's time, don't you?
MB: Remember what I said about New York! [Laughs.] It's time, though - I agree.
PC: What Fathom is doing with this new cinema presentation of SWAN LAKE 3D offers the chance for a whole new audience to experience ballet in an exciting new way, so I hope we see more of these presentations in the future, near and far.
MB: Yeah, I hope so, too! I think we are going to be filming SLEEPING BEAUTY in 3D, so you may end up seeing that on film in cinemas before you see it live. I am hoping that will happen.
PC: What a great follow-up to SWAN LAKE 3D that will be!
MB: Yeah, it could be something really great.
PC: Is there a moment in this presentation of SWAN LAKE 3D you are particularly proud of - pertaining to the 3D element, especially?
MB: Oh, Pat, just wait until you see this SWAN LAKE! It's really fantastic. I am so, so proud of it.
PC: What great news! I can't wait. Thank you so much for this today, Matthew.
MB: This was fantastic, Pat. Thank you so much. Bye.