New ballet brings a black touch to Gray

Sarah Hardy Britain’s Lord of the Dance, Matthew Bourne, brings his new production, Dorian Gray, to Norwich this month. He tells Sarah Hardy about his reworking of this Oscar Wilde classic, why he doesn’t rate the Olympics and what he thinks about all those Saturday night dance shows on telly

Sarah Hardy

You'd be forgiven for thinking that someone totally immersed in the rather rarefied world of ballet would be somewhat aloof - a bit tricky to warm up and even more difficult to pin down on anything juicy.

But Matthew Bourne, boss of New Adventures, the country's leading contemporary dance/theatre company, is always ultra chatty, almost gossipy, as he airs his views on just about anything and everything.

He won't, for example, be a judge on one of the talent shows so popular on television at present. “But I do love them. I love watching as a punter and appreciate that they have really raised the profile of dance. And they show how hard it is to be a lead in a top West End show - the training and stamina required.

“And something like Strictly Come Dancing makes people fancy having a go themselves.”

He's not too keen on the Olympics coming to London, though, getting a little hot and bothered as he explains why. Basically, he doesn't like all the cash currently being pumped into sport at the expense of smaller scale art companies, especially dance ones.

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He has been asked about helping to create a stunning opening ceremony for the 2012 event but says: “I'm not so interested in big spectacles, it's not really what I do. I'm more of a story teller so I don't think that I'm the right person. I'll probably watch it on telly at home - that's more my style. I do admire the achievement of the athletes and love the way new national heroes are created almost overnight.”

His latest show, Dorian Gray, arrives in Norwich on Tuesday, September 16, and his quirky, funny dances that have a bit of bite always sell out. His back catalogue is impressive - Matthew found fame with his version of Swan Lake which had just male swans while other favourites include Car Man, Play Without Words, Nutcracker, Highland Fling and the most recent, Edward Scissorhands.

But Dorian Gray is different to his usual pieces, Matthew explains, admitting that he has been worried about how people would react to it. “They do like to come to see my work and have a giggle, I'm aware of that. This took me a good couple of years to think about.

“It is not a sympathetic piece - more of a cautionary tale. It is very dark and the hero turns evil and kills people. But then I realised that people do like these kinds of stories, that they do have something to say.”

Matthew, who has just celebrated 20 years in the business, has also taken liberties with the original piece, changing a few characters around and putting it in a contemporary setting.

“It still reflects the novel and remains set in the image obsessed world of art and politics. Dorian is an It Boy, a waiter on the make among London's beautiful people who makes a pact with the devil.

“I have changed the sex of a couple of characters as it was a heavily male dominated piece. Lord Henry now becomes Lady H, a high powered woman who runs a magazine and introduces Dorian to the world of celebrity - and yes, I have met a few women like this!”

The piece has special interest for Norfolk audiences as it stars Norwich's Aaron Sillis. “It's his biggest role to date - he's one of three leads and is fantastic. It's a great looking show and Aaron looks gorgeous in it, with all this long hair. He plays Basil, a photographer who helps Dorian build up his ego.”

Matthew has always been a big fan of Aaron, who has danced in several of his shows. The former Taverham High School student, now aged 24, also works as Kylie Minogue's assistant choreographer, jetting around the world on her arena tours. Matthew says: “I understand why he does it. He gets to travel the world and earn good money. It makes great contacts for him and he has learnt a lot - he's certainly older and wiser now. But he knows that this is where he pushes himself.”

So what is next on the agenda for Mr Busy? He enjoys the mixture of reviving old favourites, working on new pieces and being part of a bigger scene such as a West End number.

As such, he's set to work on the new Oliver production which opens early next year. It will star newcomer Jodie Prenger as Nancy, as selected by the public in the hit TV show, I'd Do Anything.

He's also planning to refresh one of his earliest pieces, Cinderella, and also has many pieces on tour around the world. “Edward Scissorhands opens in Paris and then London - I'm just back from Sydney so the company is really much more of an international affair these days. I'd like to do more new work. This has been a three year gap between this and Edward Scissorhands, which just seems too much. I have in my mind a sort of Hitchcock idea so maybe it is time to get that off the back burner!”

He's also hoping to win the job of choreographing a movie of My Fair Lady.

“I'm waiting to hear. I'd love to do those numbers on film! I know the show as we did it in the West End so I hope that I'm the hot favourite.”

t Dorian Gray opens at Norwich Theatre Royal on Tuesday, September 16, and runs until Saturday, September 20. Tickets are from £6. Call 01603 630000 or visit for more information.