Matthew Bourne bloods new dancers in Lord of the Flies
- 2 April 2014
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Matthew Bourne, Britain's best-known choreographer, has recruited more than 300 novice dancers for his latest tour in an attempt to get more boys and young men dancing.
Many experienced dancers would pirouette over hot coals to work with Matthew Bourne, who has shaken up the dance scene over the past 25 years with productions that are both daring and exceedingly popular.
But most of the cast members in his latest project have had no professional dance experience. Some have had no dance training at all.
They will appear in Bourne's version of Lord of the Flies, adapted from William Golding's novel about schoolboys stranded on a desert island.
For each city on the 13-date tour, which begins in Salford on Wednesday, a new company of 24 novice dancers aged between 10 and 25 has been formed. They will perform alongside eight professionals, who will play the lead roles throughout the run.
Bourne and his company New Adventures held workshops in each city to find boys and young men with the requisite raw talent and enthusiasm to take part. Six hundred auditioned in the north-west of England.
"If you're casting an ordinary production, you're looking for the most skilled and talented people you can find," Bourne explains. "This has got a slightly different feel about it.
"We're obviously looking for talent. But we're emphasising more the passion and enthusiasm."
While he could have simply picked those who were deep into dance lessons, Bourne preferred rough diamonds.
"The reason for doing it is to get young people involved in theatre," he says.
"One of the reasons for picking Lord of the Flies is it is a piece about a group of boys who turn savage, and I thought the movement could be a little less than technically sharp.
"It can be a little more rough-edged, a little more real and feral and wild."
Bourne made his name by reworking favourites from Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty to Carmen (as The Car Man) and the film Edward Scissorhands.
He has also choreographed West End musicals like Oliver!, My Fair Lady and Mary Poppins, and has won five Olivier Awards and two Tony Awards.
So in using untried youngsters, he could be laying his reputation on the line.
"We're trying to do a production that stands on its own merits. It works with young people, but not in a token way, in an integral way from beginning to end," he says.
"Paying audiences are coming to see it, so we're not making any excuses for it."
Bourne is co-directing Lord of the Flies with Scott Ambler, who has choreographed the show.
The pair have enlisted dance teachers in each of the 13 cities, from Plymouth to Inverness, to help find and prepare the young performers. Then they are joined by a director from New Adventures before the full company arrives.
"It builds up and I turn up towards the end of rehearsals, a bit like Simon Cowell," Bourne laughs. "I give them my notes and a bit of guidance."
Bourne first staged the show in Glasgow in 2011. This will be the first time it has been seen elsewhere.
Many of the Glasgow band of boys had never danced before. But they have kept training and performing since, Bourne says.
"They've performed in festivals in London and are doing their own choreography," he explains.
"These were boys who had never been inside a theatre and had no interest whatsoever before they did the project, so that's a wonderful success story.
"A couple of them have auditioned to be in dance colleges since. Some of them just do it for fun and are certainly more confident young men after it.
"A lot of good things have come of it, so I hope that will happen everywhere we go now."
Just for girls?
One reason for seeking this new blood for Lord of the Flies was to get more boys interested in dance.
So, after Billy Elliot and Bourne's all-male Swan Lake and StreetDance, is there still a problem? Is there still a stigma among boys (and parents and teachers) that means people think dancing is just for girls?
Bourne says the attendances at their Lord of the Flies auditions suggests attitudes are changing.
"I think things have broken down quite a lot," he says. "But when we first did this project in Glasgow, there was a lot of peer pressure not to do it, even from teachers. So yes, it does still exist.
"There are still places where, if you're into the arts, if you want to dance or act or sing or something, it's frowned on a bit. Particularly dance with boys.
"Sometimes sports masters don't want to encourage their young men to dance. They'd rather they were playing football or rugby or something. So that does still go on.
"There's a little bit of work still to do. But this can only help."