SWAN LAKE 3D Special Interview: Richard Winsor
Today we have the third and final part of our extensive look at the sights and sounds surrounding Matthew Bourne's SWAN LAKE 3D - a one night only special movie theater showing of the new 3D film version, available at Fathom-equipped cinemas nationwide tonight - with the eponymous protagonist of the ballet film himself, rising star Richard Winsor. In this comprehensive conversation, Winsor and I parse many aspects of this daring take on the classic Tchaikovsky ballet by Matthew Bourne and investigate his collaborative relationship with Bourne on this 3D film and many other projects they have collaborated on so far this century - THE NUTCRACKER, THE CAR MAN, Edward Scissorhands, DORIAN GRAY and PLAY WITHOUT WORDS included - as well as take a cursory look ahead to their future work together and apart. Additionally, Winsor shares his insights into the creative process and outlines how he has developed such considerable skill and depth of acting in his many notable performances in dance and theatre onstage up until this point, and, now, his career diversification as he moves into feature films (UK #1 film hit, STREETDANCE 3D) and television (HOLLYOAKS), as well. All of that and much, much more!
SWAN LAKE 3D will be shown in Fathom-equipped movie theaters nationwide tonight, March 20. More information on SWAN LAKE 3D is available here.
Be sure to check out the previous entries in this special SWAN LAKE 3D series, featuring director/choreographer Matthew Bourne (available here) and prima ballerina Nina Goldman (available here). Also, stay tuned to BroadwayWorld for all news about future theatrically-related Fathom events!
PC: Was Matthew Bourne's the first production of SWAN LAKE that you had been involved with prior to being cast in the 3D film version?
RW: Yes. This is my first SWAN LAKE. I have worked on and off with Matthew now for almost ten years, so, the only SWAN LAKE that I ever wanted to perform in was this one, actually - particularly as a male dancer.
PC: Understandably so - it's a phenomenal performance piece.
RW: Yeah, it is. Plus, I really love Matthew Bourne's kind of style - it's much more storytelling in a realistic and truthful way. I mean, I love this production of SWAN LAKE - really, I do; I have to say.
PC: It's a remarkable achievement of a film, as well - particularly in 3D.
RW: Definitely. Having the experience of playing the lead in SWAN LAKE on Broadway, and, now it's going to be on 3D film? That's just kind of a career highlight for me so far, you know what I mean? [Laughs.]
PC: At least so far! Was this the first production of SWAN LAKE you did in New York prior to the film?
RW: Well, I performed PLAY WITHOUT WORDS Off-Broadway at BAM. In 2007, we also did Edward Scissorhands at BAM, in Brooklyn. Then, we did SWAN LAKE during the Christmas period of 2010 into 2011 and we performed at City Center, which is located slightly above Broadway, but it's still Broadway.
PC: City Center is a great space for dance - too bad those shows don't technically qualify at the Tony Awards and so on.
RW: It's so bizarre! You know, you're, what, two blocks north of what Broadway is considered to be? Maybe dancers are different, but it was close to enough to Broadway for us. [Laughs.]
PC: What was it like touring with this production across the UK before you brought it to the US?
RW: Well, first, we did Sadler's Wells in London for quite a chunk of time - I think it was about two months that we did at Sadler's Wells. Then, we did a UK tour and after that we went to Asia - there's just a huge audience over there for Matthew's work and dance and theatre in general; so, it was just fantastic there. Then, we took it to New York at the end of 2010 and it was such a fantastic run there, as well.
PC: How great to hear it is still a hit nearly fifteen years after its New York debut.
RW: If I'm being honest with you, I think we all wanted to stay another two months, but, you know, everyone wants to do what they want to do, so, unfortunately, we didn't stay. [Laughs.]
PC: What a shame - yet, we have the film now, in any event.
RW: Yeah, it was so nice to assemble the company back together - the same company that was in New York; or, near enough - to film it. That was the cherry on the cake, really.
RW: You know, that film is going to be there for life - a record of our heart, sweat, blood and tears.
PC: Forever. Was it an easy transition into film for you?
RW: Well, obviously, I've got a background mainly in theatre - since I was 19 with Matthew Bourne. Since then, he has kind of forged me and created me into a performer - a dancer - for his company. But, I have branched out into film recently - I did a big British film called STREETDANCE 3D that, yes, was done in 3D. [Laughs.]
PC: You are no stranger to the 3D format, then.
RW: Exactly. Actually, STREETDANCE was the first British film to be shot in 3D, I think, so, then, to be able to do SWAN LAKE 3D - it seems like everything I do is 3D! [Laughs.] But, you know, it's great! I love it.
PC: And you have recently done some TV work in the UK, in addition to your film work, right?
RW: HOLLYOAKS is a TV show in England, yes - and that was a lot of fun to do. I really feel like I am more known for the work I have done with Matthew, though, at this point.
PC: So, you will be spreading your talent around to different mediums from now on, then?
RW: Yeah, I do a lot of different things because, you know, I love film and I love TV, too. I just love doing work that I am satisfied with, really, so if it's a role or a character that I am satisfied with that can bring something out of me, then I love doing that.
PC: Winning the title role in three Matthew Bourne ballets by 30 is no small feat as a stage performer either.
RW: Hmm. [Pause.] DORIAN, SWAN LAKE and Edward Scissorhands - so, I guess you're right! I'm a very lucky guy.
PC: When Matthew did this series, we discussed that he wanted to fully explore a romantic relationship in a more engrossing way and that SWAN LAKE was a stepping stone to DORIAN in the sense that he wanted to further explore those dynamics in that piece. Can you tell me about that process and how it informed working on those two pieces for you?
RW: Yeah, the thing with DORIAN is that we did set it in a far more kind of realistic, non-fantasy world - especially in the first half - whereas SWAN LAKE is set in courtier times in England, so it was very sort of straight-laced. You couldn't just break out into a duet back then - whether it was a heterosexual or a homosexual duet. So, with DORIAN, we really did kind of enter into that process knowing what we were going to be exploring - and, not just that, but we put it about ten minutes into the show to kind of really set the scene and set the tone.
PC: An elemental part of getting the audience on your side from the beginning.
RW: Right. In creating it, the thing with Matthew is that he is a wonderful collaborator as well as a fantastic genius of a director. He will get the people who he knows will be able to enter into the world of the characters and really open themselves up and, you know, fully immerse themselves in it - and we did. For a good few weeks, we had workshops on the ideas of DORIAN and I had private workshops on my own about the character of Dorian and how to develop this kind of monster figure and explore how corrupt he is and how he changes, but, to also still be liked by the audience in my portrayal of the role.
PC: An essential element of most successful performances - audience likeability.
RW: Yeah, I wanted to still be the hero figure, but be the anti-hero character, as well - at the same time - if you know what I mean.
PC: I do. A truly rich characterization.
RW: I kind of played Dorian really, really down the middle of the two lines - ambiguous, really; you never knew either way whether he was gay or straight. It was all about the power of manipulation, really. Dorian as I played him was aware that there was more to life past what he had at that time and that he wanted to start getting that. Obviously, it was only a two hour play - things have to come together quite quickly. So, during that duet, there were all sorts of power struggles that we represented through sexuality and sex.
PC: What was that process of distilling the emotions down to one dance like for you?
RW: It was very, very interesting to develop and play - finding those beats and those points through it. You know, there is a sexual power struggle going on, but we also tried to make it very beautiful and romantic at the same time; more so on the photographer's side, because Dorian is sort of his muse in a way almost. But, I think we really entered it as it being about the idea of a power shift and a power struggle on Dorian's part.
PC: What is it like in SWAN LAKE playing the two sides of gender and also the shades of evil and good in the piece, as well, simultaneously?
RW: Oh, yeah - it's so complex. How I saw SWAN LAKE was that I felt that my character of the Swan - in Act Two and Act Three - is the flip side of the Prince's personality and his declining depression. He had this need to grab onto something and then there is this swan - this beautiful, graceful, kind of dangerous and edgy swan. The Prince is battling with his sexuality a lot, but the Swan represents freedom and love. Then, in Act Three, it's all darker and stranger and the darkest side of his personality - the kind of decrepit side of him; it's where he ultimately ends up, basically. You know, in Act Two and Act Three, these dark figures come in to it. So, it was interesting to play for me because you are really stripping down the two sides of a person's psyche and their downfall and playing with that. So, again, it's very manipulative, but there are two sides to that, too.
PC: Matthew is a storyteller as opposed to a taskmaster, clearly, from your intense understanding of the ballet - would you agree?
RW: Well, like I said earlier, obviously, he works with people that he knows are going to bring certain things to the character and he knows certain things about how they are going to interpret the character. So, it's almost like, as an actor, you are coming into the show and you are making it work for yourself, as well, all along - but, because Matthew really is a storyteller, he wants to hit certain points and beats throughout the piece with you.
PC: How did that play into you going into an existing production, more or less, in the case of this SWAN LAKE?
RW: We really do work together every step along the way. I didn't want to watch anything having to do with it - obviously, it has been done many, many times. I didn't want to go back and recreate something that someone else had done, I wanted to start from scratch; what's the beginning? What's the journey? I especially wanted to play the Swan in Act Two and Act Four as a beast - as a real dangerous animal. I wanted to signify that with dance. I wanted to really get inside that character. And, I think that is something that Matthew really wanted me to develop from the start because he knew that I liked going into it in that way - you know, emotional, but, also, in a more sort of realistic, character-oriented type of way. So, I think that over a period of time, we really made sure we were hitting the right beats and hitting the right moments emotionally at all times.
PC: Did he ever ask too much from you at any point in the process - something that pushed your limits, whether physically, emotionally, morally or whatever?
RW: Not so much in SWAN LAKE because, obviously, since it has been done before, I knew what was there, more or less. I mean, yes, there is a bit of nudity, but I've been in not a lot onstage before, so that's not too foreign to me. [Laughs.] But, movement-wise, there are always going to be movements that you struggle with, but you have to just practice and practice and practice until it sits in your body the best that it can. My struggle, initially, was that, of course, the role had been done before by a lot of fantastic dancers, but I wanted to really let my movement style come through the movement so that I was never imitating. I wanted to play through my attributes and my strengths in the movements that were already there - and to change it and make it more animalistic; more creature-like.
PC: How fascinating.
RW: Now that we've filmed it, I think that what's in the film is now the height of all of that.
PC: Had you seen the 1996 film of SWAN LAKE prior to taking part in this production and this film version?
RW: Yes, I had.
PC: Did you feel that didn't enter into the process for you because you worked so closely with Matthew on this production?
RW: Exactly. You know, that was the challenge early on because that's what you do to learn the movement - you watch studio footage. I had no idea of the intention and no idea of the actual nuts and bolts and bare bones of the story - I didn't want to have that already put on me before I learned the movement.
PC: You wanted to start fresh.
RW: Yeah, I wanted to find my way and my flow and my way through the movement, but, then, when I actually learned the actual bare bones of the movement, then I could adapt it and change it for myself to clarify what I was saying with each movement and what I was talking about in the story with the movement. The movement is really like the script in our work.
PC: What an interesting insight.
RW: That's the thing, though - I didn't want any past performances to have any effect on what I was doing. Like I said, I wanted to start from scratch and Matthew wanted to do that, as well.
PC: It was a true collaboration every step of the way, then - literally. Everyone is on the same page in a Matthew Bourne production, it seems.
RW: Yes, they are. On SWAN LAKE, everyone was working together to create one piece - we really were.
PC: SWAN LAKE 3D being a more accurate rendition of Tchaikovsky's ballet - though obviously unique in its own way - I wondered what you thought of this version versus other versions of the piece?
RW: Well, it's impossible to compare this SWAN LAKE with the traditional versions of it because it is so different. There couldn't be this SWAN LAKE without the traditional versions of it - it's really hard to say what the definitive SWAN LAKE is. I do think that this is the most hard-hitting and realistic SWAN LAKE.
PC: Have you seen the finished film yet?
RW: Yes, I have. There was a cast and crew screening of it at the end of last year and I thought it was just brilliant. They've edited it and filmed it all so well. It's really, really good and so powerful.
PC: What was the moment in the film that struck you most when you first saw it?
RW: There was a lot of really fantastic camerawork in particular, I thought. At one point, in Act Two, the camera kind of comes up above the swans and you are kind of looking down on this sort of frenzy and it's all so beautifully done and then I come up at the back and the camera drops back down again to stage level. It's just so wonderfully done - wonderfully envisioned. It works so well - it's very powerful. That's the word to describe it - powerful. It really hits you.
RW: Yeah, it really comes out and hits you - especially in 3D, in a theater. With 3D, you know, you feel like you are drawn in, so, any close-up makes you part of ensemble and brings you right up onstage almost and you are just totally immersed in the world of the piece.
PC: So, the 3D clearly impressed you, then?
RW: Oh, the actual 3D has really, really worked with this film - it's a fantastic use of 3D.
PC: Andrew Lloyd Webber recently did this column and we were discussing how in just the last five years, HD film has allowed so much more insofar as preservations of live theatre go. Just comparing this film to the 1996 one…
RW: I know! Yeah. I just think that it is so great that we can keep pushing the boundaries and keep up with technology - it's just fantastic that we can do it this way and have it in theaters, too.
PC: Wim Wenders really broke the mold with his PINA 3D dance film. SWAN LAKE 3D will be available to see in even more theaters than that - more than 200 across the US.
RW: Isn't that fantastic! I know that there are like 20 around LA alone! I admit I am going to be having a little look, so that will be great. [Laughs.]
PC: As you should! Tickets to SWAN LAKE 3D are far more affordable than live theatre tickets, in addition to this being available to see in many more markets at one time than any live performance could ever be.
RW: Oh, yeah - and to see it on the big screen, as well! I mean, I think when anything is on a big screen and it is done well it can just blow you away in a special kind of way and this film really does.
PC: What can you tell me about working with Nina Goldman as the Queen in this film?
RW: I mean, she is the perfect Queen in our show - she really is. She has such poise and subtlety, especially - particularly in the film; that's what works so fantastically well in the film for her, I think. She has so much power and subtlety and it's really lovely to play off of that because you really want to grab more and search it out, but you have to play with what she gives you and it is so brilliant how she does it; she is so strong. She is a lovely, lovely dancer, as well, but, performance-wise, I think the nicest thing about it all was how well we played together.
PC: ELLE Magazine named you "The Sexiest Dancer Alive". Do you play against that quality in aspects of certain characters you do - Edward Scissorhands and SWAN LAKE, particularly?
RW: [Laughs.] How can I answer that? Well, obviously, in DORIAN, that's a big part of it all, I guess, so I didn't play against it there. The thing with DORIAN that I found interesting was that the character and the idea of that story is about skin-deep shallowness, so what I wanted to find was the life behind that. Also, what was interesting to me was how this monster and this almost-outcast - everyone outcast him and put him on this pedestal - had just skin-deep good looks; there was this monster bubbling right underneath. With SWAN LAKE, you know, I didn't want to be a pretty swan, I wanted to be a rugged, raw creature as the Swan - in Act Two, as the Swan, especially. So, all along, I was finding my body movement and the extension of the creature. Obviously, in Act Three, when he comes back as the dark stranger, you want to have presence and you want to be sexual, so I used whatever I have for that. But, I think that you've just got to play with what you've got at the end of the day - as long as you've got a good understanding of the character and the life behind it, it can be even better.
PC: Story informs character in all facets of your performance, then.
RW: Yeah, I mean, you have got to go with what you are, but, I do like playing the outsider - I loved playing that victimized role that I had in Edward Scissorhands and CAR MAN, as well. When I played Angelo in CAR MAN - this victimized, beaten-down character - I loved playing that character and really going against type and look. I really went crazy, beating myself with the look and the makeup. That's all something I love doing.
PC: Dancers have such a profound awareness of how they come across down to the details - so often performers hide behind their special skill, whether it be their singing voice or big voice or whatever.
RW: Yeah, yeah - I bet! I bet.
PC: SWAN LAKE 3D is all about raw talent laid bare. So, what's next for you after this?
RW: Well, I am in LA right now and pursuing more film and more TV. I will be performing PLAY WITHOUT WORDS with Matthew again - we did that at BAM in 2005 and we are going to be reworking that and then playing that at Sadler's Wells later this year. That's really exciting for me, so I am really, really looking forward to getting back onstage and working with Matthew again on that.
PC: You are clearly Matthew's muse - what about another CAR MAN someday soon?
RW: Possibly. Hopefully, at some point, we will be doing that. You know, he has to sort of schedule them a good year and half in advance, so it can be tricky to get them all lined up - he's a very busy creator.
PC: You can say that again. Will you be involved with Matthew's upcoming SLEEPING BEAUTY in any capacity?
RW: Possibly not - it's quite a way off still, so we'll see.
PC: You won't be Aurora, then?
RW: [Laughs.] No, no - I think he's going to go a bit more conventional with the casting agenda of that one.
PC: I can't wait to see what you do next - onstage and onscreen! This was fabulous, Richard - I wish you all the very best with SWAN LAKE 3D. It's a momentous achievement.
RW: How kind of you - and thank you so very much for such a lovely interview, Pat. Bye bye.