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Douglas Messerli | "Dance of Surprises" (on Matthew Bourne's Early Adventures)
dance of surprises by
Bourne (choreographer) Early Adventures /
performed at Beverly Hill’s Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts,
May 17-21, 2017 / I attended with Thérèse Bachand the matinee on May 20, 2017.
Bourne has choreographed plenty of traditional musicals and balletic events,
including My Fair Lady, South Pacific, Oliver! and The Red Shoes, he
is perhaps best known for his notoriously gay-themed productions, particularly
his Swan Lake and his proposed
male-male production of Romeo and Juliet.
The three ballets of Early Adventures, reconceived works from
the late 1980 and early 1990s, often toy with some of the same gestures,
surprising and sexualizing sequences which might otherwise have been “cute” or
simply “sweet.” Yes, there are dazzling heterosexual couples spinning through
the three pieces, but the marvel of his works is that at any moment the proper
British characters might slip into bawdy and outright randy behavior, like the
bad boys and girls of the first work here performed, “Watch with Mother” from
1991, based on Joyce Grenfell’s “Nursery School Sketches” (probably forgotten
by most Americans, Grenfell, who died in 1979, is still a well-loved monologist
and performer in Britain).
The children of this piece begin simply
enough by playing a kind of version of ring-round-the rosy, but the boy at the
center of their ring, Paris Fitzpatrick, is clearly an outsider to this
community of little brutes, and quickly finds himself the subject of torture to
the children who leap upon each other’s backs, riding their peers like horses,
rolling like tops toward one another, and generally displaying other elements
of quite sadistic behavior, accompanied by music by British composer Percy
Grainger, Bach and Fauré.
Bourne’s 1991 masterpiece, “Town and Country”
followed. This multi-segmented piece includes nearly everything, including
satiric views of wealthy British couples, two of whom (João Carolino and Mari
Kamata) take somewhatstrip-tease-like
balletic baths attended—or we might say, “overattended”—by a valet and maid.
Two British dandies (Fitzpatrick and Edwin Ray) lovingly restrain themselves
while satisfying each other’s sexual needs during an outdoor picnic.
In another scene, Bourne duplicates the
famed railway restaurant scene from David Lean’s Brief Encounter, playfully satirizing the long and languid stares
of the couple(s) that can never result in more than a good-bye kiss.
The music of the period by Elgar, Coward,
Coates, and, again, Grainger moves us to the country for a good old-fashioned
clog dance, and another romp through country lanes by male-male, female-female,
and mixed couples ends in the death of one of the several stuffed animals
peeking out from the greenery. All dancers suddenly go wild on children’s
scooters, and a kind of funeral performance of Pomp and Circumstance is performed on ukulele. One might summarize
the piece by suggesting that Bourne’s Brits, despite their polished behaviors
in town, go absolutely wild in the country!
The raunchiest pieces of Bourne’s
repertoire, however, are saved for the last French-based series of dances, The Infernal Galop: A French Dance with
English Subtitles. Here the rather up-tight British can go whole hog in
their imaginations of French lowlife behavior.
To the strains of Edith Piaf, Charles
Trenet, Tino Rossi, and Mistinguett, streetwalkers prowl the Paris wharves, a
merman is serenaded by three sailors, and after an adventurous quartet of
toughs converge at a street pissoir, two of the group proceed to engage in
rough sex that keeps getting interrupted a band of street carolers. The piece
ends, how else?, in a kind of satirical version of Offenbach’s can-can. In
short, Paris is presented as rough and tough, alluring and gay as any Baedeker
guide might wish to imagine it.
is a great narrativist, who can convey character, class, and sex in just a few
bends and rolls of the body, and his dancers in this production represent a
wide range of personal eccentricities. No one in Bourne’s dances, he suggests,
is precisely what they seem, as men and women wind through each other’s arms
and legs as if they were performing a kind of Schnitzler-like ballet of “hands
around.” The very energy of it is a lovely thing to watch.