Sadler’s Wells, London
April 4, 2017
A triple bill of Sir Matthew Bourne’s early works hints at the promise of a truly fulfilling and entertaining night. It’s a promise that just keeps on delivering. In a programme featuring some of Bourne’s first works as a dance maker, his approach, humour and style are all easily identifiable. It’s easy to see how and why his work continues to appeal to audiences.
Watch with Mother, from 1991, is a literal depiction of a child’s experience among peers, especially in movement classes and playing together. A heavy narrative tells the story of a solitary child amongst classmates, their games all-consuming and competitive, however he is eventually accepted as one of their own. The stage is crowded with movement individual to each dancer, working together and against each other as they bound across the stage. Bourne’s work may be deeply rooted in classical dance and ballet, but the choreography still pushes at movement’s limits. The smaller moments such as a shoulder shimmy, a knowing look are important too, though. And all the time there’s that wonderful childlike innocence and enjoyment of movement.
Another 1991 work, Town and Country, is a true crowd pleaser: witty and ironic with strong narrative threads weaving through the piece. A suave, juicy quality to the Town elements has the dance full of cheeky insinuations, highlighted by the way Bourne uses the score. It’s easy to follow music too slavishly, but his insistence at matching the movement to the music actually emphasises his creativity. Again, small intonations here and there further enhance the piece. Most notable was a background moment of quiet embroidery interrupted by a cup of tea, steeped with double entendre as the action focused on a couple’s bath time and the quiet relationship revealed.
Moments of humour are ever-present throughout Town and Country. A simple bathing routine is made to look superior, full of effective smooth, clean lines. And, of course, who can forget the clog dancing duet that ends with the untimely death of a hedgehog (a puppet, I hasten to add), followed by its heartfelt funeral.
Perhaps it’s a nod to the origins of the work in smaller spaces, rather than for big stages like the Wells, but the performance space is reduced by having the flats protrude on to it, which focuses the attention enormously. The cast did a grand job with the synchronised scooter riding and simultaneous bell-ringing in the relatively small space.
Really noticeable throughout the evening is the way Bourne’s dancers retain their character. Wherever you look the stage is full of separate storylines that all combine to create a superb whole. So good at character are Bourne and his dancers that, at times, it was as though the latter were about to speak their next line; the movement’s meaning was so abundantly clear that you felt a line of dialogue would surely follow.
From 1991, The Infernal Galop is satirical look at English views of French stereotypes that pokes sly humour at traditional clichés, while all the time exuding an undercurrent of affection for gay Paree. There’s certainly a Parisian feel to it, the fun including a scene with a trio of sailors and their insinuating glances within the urinals, followed by a hilarious deadpan cancan line.
The movement is larger and more expansive in the The Infernal Galop, the dancers burning up the stage. Never, though, movement for movement’s sake. Male-female duets, which do not feature heavily in any of the three works, are refreshing and inventive.
Matthew Bourne’s Early Adventures is a real pleasure, a truly entertaining evening that also provides an insight into the roots of New Adventures, Bourne’s company of today. Bourne’s work rightly continues to be championed. Revisiting these early efforts only emphasises further the true extent of his choreographic genius.