Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Matthew Bourne's Early Adventures: Review

As Matthew Bourne celebrates the 25th anniversary of his company New Adventures, he has revived three of the earliest works to win him acclaimSpitfireTown and Country and The Infernal Galop, creating the triple-bill Early Adventures. This a rare chance to experience the birth of Bourne's iconic style which for a quarter of a century now has been redefining the possibilities of dance. At the heart of all three pieces is a drive to turn the unexpected into dance. Bourne has a unique talent for spotting and building upon the choreography in unlikely actions, such as being washed, dried and dressed by a servant. When I interviewed Matthew Bourne (listen to the whole conversation here) I asked if he was reacting against the common perception of dance as sweet and fluffy. He agreed, explaining that there's nothing wrong with sweet and fluffy but dance can be so much more. Early Adventures is at turns erotic, playful and deeply comic, proving just how versatile dance can be.

Spitfire (1988), subtitled "An advertisement divertissement", transfers a traditional ballet soundtrack to a male underwear advert,  full of posturing and bravado. Bourne's appreciation of the male form is nowhere more evident, but Spitfire is also an extremely funny piece. Bourne insists that he makes theatre, not dance, and so the facial expressions of the characters tell just as much of a story as their bodies, with each model desperate to be the most desired. 

Town & Country (1991) was the first piece for which New Adventures were nominated for an Olivier Award, and my favourite of the three. A series of vignettes, often bursting with irony, present typical scenes from the contrasting areas. Town ranges from a homage to Brief Encounter to a stunning scooter number (I was amazed they could balance so well at such a pace). Country, on the other hand, encompasses clog dancing, cow milking, fox hunting and some incredibly cute, scene-stealing puppets. While most of the pieces are incredibly funny, the tone suddenly changes to beautiful, moving pieces, which prove that from the beginning Bourne was an all-round talent.

The Infernal Galop (1989), "A French dance with English subtitles", features French icons from La Marseillaise and the Can-Can to Edith Piaf. Mocking French stereotypes, especially passionate romance, the choreography always tells a story and often makes you laugh out loud.  

"The productions and cast numbers might have got bigger over the years, but I'd like to think that desire to make people laugh and cry and to give audiences a great night out was there right from the very beginning" - Matthew Bourne, programme notes.

Watching Early Adventures, you have to agree with Bourne. From this highly entertaining piece, the origins of his iconic style are very clear, yet Early Adventures does not pale in comparison with his latter enormous successes. While they are older than me, these early pieces still seem so fresh and original - like all of Bourne's ground-breaking work, they retain a timeless quality. Bourne's undeniable talent as a choreographer and director is only enhanced by the supremely talented cast, who can not only dance with enviable skill, but also bring so much energy and character to their performance. If you've ever been put off dance because you think it's staid and dull, let Matthew Bourne and his Early Adventures prove you wrong.

Early Adventures is at Sherman Cymru until 6 June, then continues touring. Full details at or @early_adventures on Twitter.


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