Audiences adore story ballets. Company directors wrack their brains to come up with danceable scenarios. Sprucing up the classics like Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty is a time-honored possibility (new costumes, set, and maybe a bit of new choreography). So is reenvisioning them, as Swedish choreographer Mats Ek and others have done (lose the tutus, keep the music, make new steps, update the locale, think Freudian).
But none of the revised classics or borrowed plots from other sources have achieved the popularity of Matthew Bourne’s productions. His 1995 Swan Lake, with its tough-guy swans and satirical look at Britain’s royal family, played on Broadway in 1998; a revival is currently being seen in Australia. The Car Man (2000), his version of Bizet’s Carmen, has a London season this summer and then tours the UK into October. Bourne’s latest work, Edward Scissorhands, which has been visiting American cities since November, will hit BAM in March.
His gift is not just for making old ideas seem fresh; he’s a virtuoso storyteller. The 1994 Highland Fling transports the 1832 ballet La Sylphide to the toilets of a druggy Glasgow disco and a city dump. Bourne’s Nutcracker (2002) takes place in a Dickensian orphanage, for whose sad little inhabitants a Land of Sweets is truly an impossible dream. The “prince” of his 1997 Cinderella is a pilot who steers the heroine through the nightmare of London during the World War II blitz.
Bourne’s talents weren’t bred in the ballet world. Born in East London, a kid who loved music and theater and movies and put on little shows at a precocious age, Bourne didn’t start dance training until he was 22. And the Laban Centre, where he studied, puts more emphasis on contemporary dance and composition than on ballet. Although he has provided choreography for musicals such as Mary Poppins (currently running in both London and New York), the productions he devises for his own organization, New Adventures, involve no speaking or singing.
Edward Scissorhands isn’t his first remake of a movie; his brilliant Play Without Words (shown at BAM in 2005) worked theatrical magic on the noir plot of Joseph Losey’s 1963 film, The Servant. It’s easy to see why Bourne was attracted to Tim Burton’s 1990 flick starring Johnny Depp. Edward, like many of Bourne’s protagonists, is an outsider—sensitive, put upon, and sexually ambiguous or confused. Plus, his sculptured topiary and ice statues cry out to be set dancing. Designs by Bourne’s longtime collaborator Lez Brotherston move the pastel smallsville community of the movie from the ’60s to the more uptight ’50s and give the girls bouffant skirts to swirl in at proms. In interviews, Bourne has noted an obvious challenge. How does one create a pas de deux in which the hero can’t use his hands without snipping away bits of his partner? Very carefully.
‘Edward Scissorhands’, March 13 through 31, BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-636-4100.
Listings by Joy Goodwin
‘Paul Taylor Dance Company’
March 2–18 At 77, Paul Taylor continues to make dances no one else could, like the incisive, mournful new “Lines of Loss” and the madcap, vaudevillian “Troilus and Cressida (reduced).” The two premieres share bills with 16 revivals, including “Roses,” “Sunset,” “Esplanade,” “Company B,” and “Promethean Fire,” all danced with the troupe’s trademark precision and passion. New York City Center, 135 W 55, 212-5181-1212, nycitycenter.org
March 14–17 and March 21–24 The twentysomething downtown sensation Ann Liv Young isn’t afraid to put discomfiting sex onstage, so don’t expect her Snow White to sing to the little songbirds. The Brothers Grimm, Freud, and creepy kitsch are the big influences on her dance-theater adaptation of the classic story, which promises “new psychosexual tensions” between Snow White, the Evil Stepmother, and the Prince. The Kitchen, 512 W 19th, 212-255-5793, thekitchen.org
‘Stories of Us’
March 15–18 The radical Vietnamese choreographer Le Vu Long—whose company is comprised of hearing-impaired dancers—uses Western dance forms in a new piece about people “living on the fringes” of Vietnamese society. Dance Theater Workshop, 219 W 19th, 212-924-0077, dtw.org
‘Tamango’s Urban Tap’
March 20–25 Tamango, a fleet-footed tapper from French Guiana, returns to the Joyce with another installment of his unique brand of global urban freestyle dance party. Improvisations and irresistible rhythms drive this celebration of Creole culture, featuring dancers and musicians from Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Haiti, Cote d’Ivoire, and France. Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave, 212-242-0800, joyce.org
‘Becky, Jodi and John’
April 4–7 That’s Becky Hilton, Jodi Melnick, and John Jasperse—three dancers who met 20 years ago, and are still at it in their forties. Jasperse’s new evening-length work takes a hard but humor-filled look at getting older—a process that strikes special fear in the heart of every dancer. Dance Theater Workshop, 219 W 19th, 212-924-0077, dtw.org
‘John Butler: An American Master’
April 10–15 Best known for his dramatic, propulsive “Carmina Burana,” Butler, who died in 1993, made ballet-modern hybrids that toured the world. His foundation pays tribute by presenting four of his works, faithfully revived by the Richmond Ballet, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Fugate/Bahiri Ballet NY, Desmond Richardson, and Tai Jimenez. New York City Center, 135 W 55th, 212-581-1212, nycitycenter.org
‘The Nothing Festival’
April 18–21 and April 25–28 Tere O’Connor, whose works eschew narrative and linearity, invites eight choreographers to make new works from—well, nothing. By freeing the artists from marketing and fundraising concerns, O’Connor hopes to produce something revelatory; either way, he’ll be moderating the post-show discussions. The intriguing lineup includes Luciana Achugar, Douglas Dunn, and HIJACK. Dance Theater Workshop, 219 W 19th, 212-924-0077, dtw.org
‘American Ballet Theater’
May 14–July 7 Highlights of the company’s eight-week season at the Met include the world premiere of Kevin McKenzie’s fresh take on “Sleeping Beauty” and the first revival of Lar Lubovitch’s “Othello” (1997) in nine years. Also on tap: Natalia Makarova’s “La Bayadére,” Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s “Manon” and “Romeo and Juliet,” James Kudelka’s “Cinderella,” and McKenzie’s “Swan Lake.” Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, 150 W 65th, 212-362-6000, abt.org
May 10–13 and May 18–20
In its eighth year, the uptown series for established and emerging choreographers continues to draw exciting talent, like Tania Isaacs, David Rousseve, and Erick Montes. The venue is Harlem’s gorgeous new theater. The Gatehouse, 150 Convent Ave, 212-650-7100, harlemstage.org
‘Doug Varone and Dancers’
May 16 and May 18–20 On his company’s 20th anniversary, the popular Doug Varone finally makes his BAM debut with “Dense Terrain,” a piece about the need to couple and connect. Torn letters lie strewn about the stage as the intense performers move to an original score by Nathan Larson, the indie-rock film composer of
Velvet Goldmine. BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton St, Bklyn, 718-636-4100, bam.org
’30 Years of DanceAfrica’
May 25–27 The annual Memorial Day dance/film/art/music/food/craft festival just got bigger, with the celebration of two major birthdays: its 30th, and founder Baba Chuck Davis’s 70th. Uganda’s Ndere Troupe joins African-inflected dance companies from New York and Philadelphia on the mainstage. BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Ave, Bklyn, 718-636-4100, bam.org
‘Wally Cardona Quartet’
May 29–June 2 Fresh off a Bessie award, the man who likened viewing his dances to watching an ant farm returns with “SITE,” the latest vehicle for his obsession with bodies in space. Ace lighting designer Roderick Murray again collaborates. Dance Theater Workshop, 219 West 19th Street, 212-924-0077, dtw.org