Matthew Bourne’s company celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with a comedic festival of works from the 1980s and 1990s. The triple bill, entitled Early Adventures, restages three of Bourne's first works. It shows the company at its hilarious and talented best.
Bourne’s signature work Spitfire (1988) was his first big hit. It parodies the 19th Century Pas de Quatre, which showcased the leading ballerinas of the time. Taking inspiration from underwear advertising, Bourne puts four narcissistic men centre stage wearing a variety of vests, boxers, Y-fronts and thermal pants. To the grand orchestral music of Alexander Glazunov and Leon Minkus, dancers flex their biceps, wiggle their bottoms and create macho group poses. The piece uses appealing choreography and references to classical technique, but an irresistible humour and charm stand out most.
Town and Country was created in 1991 and shows a variety of scenes from a bygone British era. In town, a woman bathes and is dressed by a maid, a suited gentleman stitches embroidery, couples date at the cinema and six scooter-riders beep horns and ring bells. In the country, milk maids, clog dancers, fox-hunters and golf-players all come to life. Witness a hedgehog’s funeral. The choreography is an eclectic assortment of jollity, romance and poignancy, typifying the best of English life.
Final work, Infernal Galop (1989), takes its name from the little-known correct title of the famous can-can music. It satirises British perceptions of the French with vignettes displaying the varied characters found across the Channel. Parisian women drape themselves with scarves, sailors serenade a dressing-gowned merman and men casually observe each other at urinals. Most unexpected is when a gay couple’s romantic duet and passionate sex is rudely interrupted by a beret-wearing and maraca-wielding street band. Infernal Galop is another example of Bourne’s skill in taking ordinary situations and using wit and powerful choreography to create a truly entertaining work.
The company, New Adventures is in fine form throughout, with dancers both technically skilled and able to convey the choreography’s drama and comedy. This triple bill shows why Bourne has had such a successful 25 years. No doubt there are 25 more years of surprises to come.
By Laura Dodge
Early Adventures is at Sadler’s Wells until 26 May. Book tickets here.