BWW Interview: Max Westwell's Ever Ready To Rise To The Top In MATTHEW BOURNE'S SWAN LAKE
The much lauded, deservedly awarded Matthew Bourne'S SWAN LAKE returns to thunderous ovations at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles a third time (second time in 2006) since its auspicious L.A. debut in 1997. What was considered ground-breaking and quite shocking to ballet traditionalists when Matthew Bourne originally switched out the delicate female corps of swans for a forceful, menacing flock of male swans has now remained as avant-garde and striking in its unique interpretation. Sharing the titular role of The Swan/The Stranger is Max Westwell in his debut role with Matthew Bourne's New Adventures' international touring company. I had the marvelous opportunity to pose a few queries to this imposing dancer.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Max!
You've been dancing in New Adventures' SWAN LAKE since the UK tour began September 22, 2018 at the Theatre Royal Plymouth. What was your audition process like?
I first auditioned for the show five years ago, but it was not the right time for me. This time I think I did the last two rounds, and was offered the job a week later.
Did you find any stark differences dancing with New Adventures from that of your twelve years performing in the English National Ballet?
Yes, the main one is that New Adventures is a dance theatre company and is contemporary based. We do ballet and contemporary classes on alternative days for class in the morning. Adding a whole new contemporary dance vocabulary has been very rewarding. I have learnt a lot from the other dancers just by watching the different ways of moving.
When you started the UK tour in 2018, you were dancing the role of The Private Secretary, sharing the role with long-time New Adventures Company principal Glenn Graham and Ashley-Jordan Packer. How many times did you get to perform The Private Secretary? About a third of the time?
I haven't ended up doing The Private Secretary very often as I'm here mainly to dance The Swan.
You performed at the Guangzhou Opera House in China this past September. What intrigued you the most about China?
This was my third tour to China and I really enjoyed it. It's very interesting to see how much it has changed over ten years. The fans in China are amazing.
With all the cities you've toured with SWAN LAKE, any particular city hold a special place in your heart?
I'm from South London, so London for me is always the big one because of friends and family. As well as, the huge dance scene and it being the capital. I have never been to Dublin before this tour, we had a great week there with probably too much Guinness.
In the traditional partnering lifts, usually the one being lifted is smaller in stature and lighter in weight than the lifter. In SWAN LAKE, might you be lifting someone heavier and/or taller than you?
This still applies in my case as I mainly dance with The Prince the show who is smaller and lighter than me.
Is this much of an adjustment for you? Or no big deal, since the liftee does support part of their own weight in the lifts.
Dancing with a man is completely different than dancing with a woman. They move so differently and are not as flexible. The added weight and strength means that if you get the coordination wrong, it's a lot more difficult.
After so many performances of SWAN LAKE, with the choreography set in stone; how do you still infuse your different interpretations, lights and shades into your dancing?
Over the run, the way I dance the role has changed a lot. From finding out where you get the most impact and the best way to pace it, to what choices that read the best artistically. The main thing that keeps it fresh is whom you are dancing with, making sure you are in the moment and fully responding to what they bring to the dance that day. The cast is always changing around you as well so there are always different interpretations to respond to.
With the four lead roles double cast, do you still have a swing or a stand-by for these roles?
There is also a cover for both of the roles, just in case!
How much advance notice of which role you're to be performing do you get?
We get our casting for the coming week the week before.
Years ago, the esthetics of a successful male ballet dancer would only be a trim, yet strong physique (i.e. Nureyev, Nijinsky), with concentration on lower body development. Nowadays, full-muscled, total body developed men like yourself thrive. How do you balance your gym workouts with your stretchability and lightness in jumps?
When I was at English National Ballet, we had a sports scientist with us full-time. What I found was I could increase jump and stability massively by doing certain gym workouts. I could also increase flexibility and speed while getting the look I wanted. I love the latest science involved in dance, and it has helped me hugely throughout my career.
How do you schedule your hard gym workouts vs. light gym workouts with your performance schedule?
I tend to only add bulk and power when I am on a break. When we are doing the show, it is physically exhausting. I only do maintenance and activation work to keep everything going on show weeks.
With all the touring that you've been doing, does the Company travel with its own mini-gym equipment? Or do you scout local gyms to work out in?
I carry some smaller gym equipment along with me on tour. There is normally a gym that we use in each venue that the company finds for use.
Do you take Company dance classes every day? Or only on the days you're to perform?
We take company class every day in some form. It is compulsory and part of being in the show.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I have a whole routine of exercises and visualizations that I do to warm up for the show. I also do Wim Hof breathwork to get me in to the right place to do the show.
What are expecting, or looking forward to, in performing at the Ahmanson?
There is a really nice community feel in this theater which is great as we are here for longer than any other venue. I have never performed in America before, and I love how vocal the audiences are over here. They really come with you on the journey.
Thank you again, Max! I look forward to being mesmerized by the SWAN corps again.
For ticket availability and show schedule through January 5, 2020; log onto www.centertheatregroup.org