Matthew Bourne, or SIR Matthew Bourne if you prefer to be fancy, is hot.
I don’t mean that in the way that you’re thinking (although he is an attractive man, to be sure), but that he is probably the most popular choreographer working in the field of dance today – and not just in his native England, either.
For thirty years he has created some of the freshest, most energetic, and downright fun dance productions ever imagined, and in so doing he’s widened the accepted boundaries of the art form itself. He’s done it by relying on a heavy dose of influence from the film and theater he grew up watching and yoking the imagery and narrative focus from those sources to the free-form sensibilities of dance, by fearlessly infusing his work with contemporary perspectives on sex and sexuality, and- perhaps most importantly- by not taking it all too seriously.
Throughout his career so far, both with his own dance companies (originally Adventures in Motion Pictures, now New Adventures) and through his work as a director/choreographer in theater, he has continued to deliver productions that are not only graceful and athletic but clever and amusing, as cheeky and charming as they are sublime.
Now, as part of a thirtieth anniversary celebration of his company, three pieces from the beginning of Bourne’s career are gracing the stage at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, allowing Los Angeles audiences to see first-hand how his unique approach to the art of dance burst forth in his work from the very first.
Those who are already dance aficionados will need no persuading to jump at the chance to see this marvelous performance, but less well-versed audiences need not fear feeling beyond their depth; Bourne’s work is nothing if not eminently accessible, thanks to his theatricality and his use of popular music and culture to anchor his productions firmly in the familiar and the contemporary.
Likewise, though all three of these “Early Adventures” are undeniably British in their sensibility, and joined by the common thread of nostalgia for a bygone era, the tropes and social observations with which they bubble are universally recognizable enough to ensure that nobody will feel left out.
First up is “Watch With Mother- Seen but not heard”, a fairly brief 1991 piece about children’s playtime. Accompanied by the incongruously refined piano music of Bach, Fauré, and Australian composer Percy Grainger, a group of precocious English schoolchildren engage in the standard pastimes, games, and horseplay of a simpler time; they also engage in the kind of cliquish childhood cruelty that seems timeless- though of course, one never doubts that such well-bred youngsters will be civil to their peers in the end.
Bourne revels in the humor of having adult dancers playing the children, which invites the obvious parallels between the immature behavior of both age brackets, and also invites the audience to recall the childish glee of being naughty (or at least not-so-nice) when noone is looking. It’s an adorable piece which perfectly sets the mood for the rest of the show.
Next comes “Town and Country- Lie back and think of England”, also from 1991. A longer segment, this one is a pastiche which explores stereotypes of English character and behavior- particularly among the so-called leisure class- through the romanticized filter of stage, film, and fiction.
Set to the quintessentially British strains of such composers as Edward Elgar and Noël Coward, it leads us through a series of vignettes depicting English life, first in the sophisticated city and then in the pastoral countryside. Fanciful and rife with sharp but good-natured satire, these are mostly funny and often hilarious exaggerations of the stiff-upper lip gentility that permeates popular notions of what it is to be British; nevertheless, amidst all the wry social commentary there is room for moments of unabashed sexuality (notably in a brilliantly staged bathing sequence) and unexpected sincerity (in a moving pas de deux between two male dancers). A wholly satisfying piece that offers a perfect glimpse at Bourne’s blend of wicked wit and tasteful sentimentality, this is the must-see highlight of the evening.
The final section is “The Infernal Galop- A French dance with English subtitles”, dating back to 1989. As can be inferred from the title, it’s a look at France through the lens of uptight English imagination, featuring all the usual clichés of French culture presented in as exaggerated and cartoonish a style as one could hope.
An eclectic mix of French music, from Piaf to Offenbach, provides the accompaniment to a parade of hilarious cultural stereotypes; highlights include a dance of seduction set to the iconic tune “La Mer” (in which the sea itself lures a trio of striped-shirted sailors to their doom), a hilariously homoerotic apache dance between two men who meet at a public urinal, and a finale which incorporates the obligatory can-can- performed with a characteristically French attitude of disdain, of course.
More saucy than shocking, this high-spirited parody provides a delicious and upbeat climax to a performance which, judging by the exuberant expressions of the dancers during the lengthy standing ovation they received at the end, is clearly as joyous an experience to perform as it is to watch.
“Matthew Bourne’s Early Adventures” is a superb introduction if you are new to the work of this groundbreaking (and much-beloved) artist, but it’s also a great way to fill in the blanks for fans who have been following him for years, but have never been able to see the early stuff that started it all.
Whichever category you fall into, don’t miss your chance to catch these rarely-seen gems; it’s their only appearance in the U.S. this year, and it only runs through this weekend. What are you waiting for? Get those tickets now!
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
Bram Goldsmith Theater
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA, 90210
Matthew Bourne’s Early Adventures:
May 17 – 21, 2017
Performance Schedule: Wed – Fri at 8pm; Sat at 2pm & 8pm; Sun at 2pm
Single tickets: $39 – $99 (prices subject to change)
Online – TheWallis.org
By Phone – 310.746.4000
Box Office – Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Service
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA, 90210