Meeting with Matthew Bourne is rather like being in the eye of a hurricane - peaceful and calm as the rest of the storm rages on as the cast and crew of Adventures in Motion Pictures go through their frenetic paces getting their newest show - "Car Man" - up and running at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles.
Bourne's boyish good looks and charm put one immediately at ease - and belie his true age of 40. And there is a child-like openness that is warm and vulnerable.
His shows, however, are not all sweetness and light, and "Car Man" is a perfect example - passion and murder in the small town of Harmony brought to life on stage.
But where did Harmony, middle America, come from?
"Countless movies," Bourne said. "'The Last Picture Show' - the movie is quite nice. 'My Private Idaho' - you know, just classic American folklore type of thing I have seen in many movies. Just from that. That's what makes it universal, isn't it?"
"Everyone knows that kind of place, or has seen that kind of thing," he said. "How realistic it is doesn't really matter because it is another mythical story, a mythical place really. Certainly not from personal experience."
Legendary and universal themes were of major importance in Bourne's first big commercial success, Swan Lake. Its Oedipal relationship between the Queen and the Prince and the search for emotional nourishment touched a wide audience, moving many to tears during the final act.
Bourne and company were not immediately aware of the powerful drama they were creating with their male swans and lonely prince. The impact astonished them.
Bourne said, "Actually I was very surprised, completely surprised. Because some scenes felt really like they weren't working in the studio. Particularly in Act III the ballroom scene. It just felt like it was going flat - felt like things just attached together."
"And suddenly in front of an audience it was all so electric," he said. "They went wild, they loved that. That first performance particularly they loved that sequence."
"And it was like an enormous sort of relief. Because I was actually thinking it wasn't that good," said Bourne.
"Amazing night really, that first performance. It was all there, that first show."
Like Swan Lake, Car Man is highly energetic and full of big movement, but not out of control.
Notes given by Bourne in a quiet voice after a rehearsal concentrate on the little things that give the dance finesse. "I am very into timing I suppose," Bourne said. "And into musicality and precision and counting and position ... I don't want it to look fake or drilled too much, I like a bit of freedom within it, but it should be clean."
Dancers express their opinions too, on what is working or not and after notes they all go through spacing on stage, fine-tuning the performance in anticipation of the big opening night.
The mantle of fame rests easy on Bourne's shoulders.
"I'm not really famous in that way, you know," he said. "There's fame and then there's fame, isn't there? I like it when people know who I am, I enjoy that, and they say nice things. I quite enjoy that," he said.
"You get treated with a lot of respect as well."
And well-deserved respect it is.
By Matthew Bourne
- An Interview with Matthew Bourne -
by Ed Lippman
September 8, 2001
- An Auto-Erotic Thriller -
- Talk about the show -
All photos copyright 2001 Lara Hartley unless noted otherwise
All contributions as noted in each feature.