Bourne's "Edward Scissorhands" is not cutting-edgeby Marianne Combs, Minnesota Public Radio
Choreographer Matthew Bourne does not believe dance has to be an acquired taste--an art that's too refined to fill lots of theater seats. Bourne is a Tony Award-winner who created international hits with his productions of "The Car Man," "Swan Lake" and "Cinderella." His dances regularly sell out and extend their runs. Bourne's production "Edward Scissorhands" is playing at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul.
St. Paul, Minn. — You probably remember the original movie "Edward Scissorhands." It came out in 1990, was written and directed by Tim Burton and featured music by Danny Elfman. It tells the story of a strange boy with scissors for hands, who had a hard time fitting in. While the plot line is quite similar in Matthew Bourne's "Edward Scissorhands," Bourne says he doesn't believe in just putting a film on stage.
"The challenge always with something cinematic--bringing it to the stage--is you have to start from the beginning again and turn it into a piece of theater," says Bourne. "I'm not really a big fan of shows that just put a film on the stage in as best way you can. A film is a film and a theater piece is a theater piece. It has to become a piece of theater, otherwise I don't see the point in doing it."
In Bourne's version of "Edward Scissorhands," Edward is created by a father who's lost his son, not an inventor. And on stage, there's no dialogue to let you know what's going on. The story is told completely through movement and music. Bourne compares it to reading a book. You're given the words and you have to come up with your own images.
"This is almost the opposite," says Bourne. "You get all the visuals but the words. And the emotions you're being shown in a way, but you can also interpret them for yourself. It makes you kind of feel the piece personally."
Bourne says without words, the story of Edward Scissorhands can be enjoyed in any country; there are no language barriers. Instead of words, he says, it's the choreography that conveys the needed elements of plot and emotion.
While sold-out shows point to Bourne's popularity, he has not been as well received by critics. In his native England he's been called the "bad boy of ballet," a fact he finds amusing, because he doesn't see himself as being "of ballet." He started dancing relatively late, when he was 22. An article last week on Slate.com complained that his work wasn't innovative. But Bourne says he's not out to be cutting edge.
"No, it's not challenging choreography if you're comparing it to Mark Morris or (George) Balanchine or something like that, if that's what you know of dance," says Bourne. "But to the vast majority of people who see this show--which goes way beyond the dance audience--it's the most fantastic dancing they've ever seen."
Bourne says he lures people in with a familiar story, people who would never think of attending a ballet. He says by the end of the show, the audience is so caught up in the plot it doesn't realize it's watching a pas de deux.
While "Edward Scissorhands" runs at the Ordway, Twin Cities choreographer James Sewell will be performing his own brand of highly narrative dance across the river at the Guthrie Theater. Sewell has trained extensively in ballet. He agrees that Bourne's work is not on a par with Balanchine or other great choreographers, but he says that's okay. He sees it more as ballet theater.
"The point of his things is more to explore a story and to bring a story to the stage without words," says Sewell, "and I think dramatically he does some really beautiful things; he has wonderful images, he has a great imagination on stage. I think what he's doing is bringing ballet to audiences in a way that it wouldn't otherwise happen and I think that's great for dance in general. It's certainly great for ballet."
Oddly enough, Bourne's popularity is leading him to be a little more experimental. Now that he has several touring productions bringing in income, Bourne says he's in a good place to try some risky new work, and maybe even fail.
"The challenge for me now will be to try some smaller, more experimental things that may or may not ever be seen again outside of the UK," says Bourne. "I have the chance to do that. It could end up being popular, because that's what I do, but who knows?"
If Bourne knows what that next experimental project is, he's not saying.
- All Things Considered, 04/11/2007, 4:54 p.m.