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May 4, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 18
 
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Bits & Bytes
Matthew Bourne's Edward Scissorhands continues at 5th Avenue Theatre, openly-Gay director tells 'all' to SGN by Milton W. Hamlin
by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

Matthew Bourne's version of Edward Scissorhands is the talk of the town-the Emerald City has clearly gone wild for the "dancical" continuing through May 13 at the 5th Avenue Theatre. Bourne's original London cast ends its U.S. tour with the Seattle performances. The production is based on the cult 1990 Tim Burton film that cemented Johnny Depp's accent to superstardom. Not a "ballet," not a "musical," Edward Scissorhands has-for better or worse-been tagged a "dancical" by many national scribes.

Matthew Bourne, the director, "deviser" and choreographer of the award wining production, is comfortable being openly Gay. "It's always been true that I was openly Gay. Coming out was not a difficult time for me. At five, I was recruiting neighborhood children to recreate the musical highlights of popular films-especially Mary Poppins. At 18, I figured out what it all meant."

On his first visit to Seattle, Bourne took time to meet with SGN's Bits&Bytes in a cozy nook of the lobby bar at the historic Fairmont Olympic Hotel. It was the only in-person interview Bourne granted the print media on his two-night visit. Other papers were granted phone interviews before he arrived, but Bourne and the 5th Avenue selected SGN for the only one-on-one interview.

The 5th Avenue's publicist suggested we spend "30 to 45 minutes" together, but the time sped by so quickly that an hour and 15 minutes had passed before both of us realized how much time we had spent together.

"The Gay community has always supported my work first," Bourne noted. "Gay men 'got' my approach and helped turn my early work into successful productions."

Bourne's major work goes back to an off-the-wall staging of The Nutcracker for England's Opera North in 1992, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the original Russian premiere. Like the Russian premiere, Opera North's Nutcracker was double-billed with Tchaikovsky's Yolanda, both clocking in at 90 minutes each with an intermission between. "It was a long night."

Bourne, born in 1960, entered ballet study "late." "I was 22-far too old to begin. I think they admitted me because I was male and tall." After graduation from college in 1987, he started his own dance troupe of six "with nontraditional body types." Touring the United Kingdom for eight years of small shows-"small-scale contemporary dance things"-his big break came with an unusual chance to stage a 100th anniversary of The Nutcracker. Swan Lake came next. "The Arts Council Of Great Britain funded my Swan Lake concept. We went from being a modern dance company of six to a classic ballet troupe of 30." Planned for two weeks at Sadler's Wells in London with a 10 week tour "of the provinces" to follow, "we ran forever-we could still run for months in months in London right now." Bourne has been partnered with Arthur Pita for the past 10 years. They met when Bourne staged the first British edition of his prize winning Swan Lake, considered by many as the "first Gay ballet." In his famous interpretation, The Prince falls in love with the Swan Prince who has an ensemble of male swans-bare-chested men in feathered pants, a stunning image that has been captured on DVD. Pita was one of the original "Swan-ies."

"No matter what we did or said, people kept thinking that my Swan Lake was a comic send-up, with men in tutus. The Gay community embraced the concept as a serious exploration of tragic love but the 'straight' audiences were slow to warm to it."

The original production was "a sensation, openly embraced by the GLBT community and the ballet world." After its success with Gay men and the GLBT dance crowd, "the theater crowd 'found us' next, then young women-who aren't bothered by the male-on-male love scenes-then the young audience members-young men and women who aren't concerned with preconceived perceptions," Bourne remembered.

The New York production made more headlines when the Tony Awards committee deemed Swan Lake not to be a "musical" but allowed Bourne to be nominated and win two Tony Awards for Best Director Of A Musical and Best Choreographer Of A Musical. The leading dancer also won awards as Best Actor In A Musical.

"None of us could figure all that out," Bourne chuckled, "but then we are British." Grateful for the acclaim that the American tour of Swan Lake garnered, Bourne noted that the Broadway production was not a financial success.

"We're still paying that one off," he laughed, The U.S. tour did well in major cities but limited box office success caused Bourne's company to cut the tour short. Once rumored to be headed to Seattle, the production "never made it."

Swan Lake is currently on tour in Australia with his company of 40 dancers. After the "down under" visit, Swan Lake heads to Moscow.

"Imagine the nerve-taking a Gay-themed, all-male Swan Lake to Russia, the original home of Swan Lake& But, I'm sure it will be fun," he smiled. "After that, we'll put it to sleep for a couple of years."

Will it ever play Seattle, Bits&Bytes asked. "We'd love to come back," he enthused. "I love developing relationships with specific cities, with specific theaters, with specific producers," he noted. "In Los Angeles, Swan Lake was a huge hit in two visits. Car Man (Bourne's update of Bizet's Carmen) sold out its complete six-week run before we arrived. I like taking my company to a city that knows my work and is ready for it."

Bourne's private life with Arthur Pita is "hectic but rewarding." Pita, now 35, has stopped dancing and moved into choreography as a natural extension of his ballet career. Of Portuguese heritage, Pita was raised in South Africa where he was currently staging a new work he choreographed. "We live in London--that makes it easy."

Bourne, now 47, had partners before Pita. "Lots! I've always been with someone," he smiled.

Bourne has fond memories of restaging Hollywood musicals in his childhood. While he has alternated work with his own company and British revivals of major musicals-choreographing Children Of Eden ("an under-appreciated show"), My Fair Lady, Oliver! and South Pacific for London stages, his favorite theater work is on the long-awaited stage version of Mary Poppins.

A smash hit in London and a big hit in New York this season, Bourne co-directed and co-choreographed both editions. "We made lots of changes between the two versions, adapting dialog and bits of business for American audiences." But what a thrill it must have been to mount a zillion dollar stage version of the show he used to revive with neighborhood children when he was five. "Yeah," he smiled quietly as our interview ended.

Bourne is sure to be a front runner for Mary Poppins when Tony Award nominations are announced later this month. But his ballet company-technically New Adventures-has lots planned for the upcoming future.

"We do U.K. revivals of Car Man and The Nutcracker for a British tour. And an U.S. edition of Car Man" (which he hopes will play Seattle at the 5th Avenue in 2007 or 2008--"we are talking"). His next major new work is the already controversial Gay-themed Romeo, Romeo which finds Shakespeare's two "star crossed lovers" to be two young men of Verona. "It will be a stretch for audiences," Bourne told national writers, "but we are ready for it."

As for Edward Scissorhands, Bourne is "delighted" with the final work. "It has a special resonance for Gay audiences," he noted, but the symbolic allegory works "anytime with anyone who feels different.-racial, sexual, handicaps."

Johnny Depp, the film's original star and the creator of the character, attended the show earlier in the national tour.

"He was on the verge of tears throughout the production and bought the entire cast champagne after the performance. He came back the next day with his kids-what an endorsement!" Bourne enthused. Edward Scissorhands continues with performances at the 5th Avenue through May 13. Tickets

start at just $20 and are available at 625-1900 or toll-free for out-of-area theater fans at (888) 5TH 4TIX. Budget minded stage fans should remember that tickets purchased in person at the 5th Avenue's box office have no additional service fees.

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