Los Angeles has seen more of Matthew Bourne's provocative dance dramas than any other American city. But on Wednesday, his London-based company, New Adventures, presented three works entirely new to us — new and old at the same time.
In its sole U.S. engagement, Bourne's "Early Adventures" came to the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills to re-create vault treasures from the late 1980s and early '90s, when his works were made on his own body and had what he called "thrift shop" production values. No longer. His frequent collaborator Lez Brotherston has redesigned and upgraded their look, and Bourne's nine dancers performed with untiring freshness, versatility and a ravenous appetite for offbeat challenges.
No male swans or vampire-cavaliers turned up at the Wallis' Bram Goldsmith Theater, but Bourne's talent for simultaneously nostalgic and satiric perspectives flourished all evening long, set to recorded music by some 19 composers. "Watch With Mother" (1991) looked at children's games — the playful, the competitive, the cruel — and used a distinctively segmented choreographic style (movement broken into components) that stepped back from a potentially sentimental subject for a colder view. The sadistic undercurrent afflicted Paris Fitzpatrick most of all as the lonely outsider and gave an edge to groupings in which the dancers rode one another as if on horseback.
"The Infernal Galop" (1989) toyed with British illusions about lower-class Parisians. Like the back pages of a Lonely Planet guidebook, Bourne warned you about gamines for rent, sailors on the make, communal outbursts of existential despair and even assignations at a pissoir. Rough stuff, culminating in the surliest cancan ever choreographed. However, an interlude with a hunky merman (Tom Clark) helped to keep the sense of comic fantasy in focus, as did the seedy, forever-interrupted liaison between Clark and Daniel Collins.
Although "Watch With Mother" and "The Infernal Galop" proved undeniably entertaining, they also revealed what Bourne hadn't yet learned about directorial focus and the power of stillness. But "Town and Country" (1991) never felt like an outtake from an earlier stage in his creative evolution. No, this was a full-fledged masterwork, a loving if deliberately skewed embrace of his Englishness. Especially dazzling: his ability to fuse a character's personality, social status, occupation and emotions in a single moment of dancing and then instantly switch that character into animal mode or another reality.
This was a dance of transformations, scenic as well as choreographic, taking you from a posh hotel to a train station to a cinema and eventually into an inspired social panorama on scooters. Among the highlights: an impeccably restrained but deeply emotional duet for Fitzpatrick and Edwin Ray, along with a deft bathtub quartet for João Carolino and Mari Kamata (the uppercrust bathers), aided by Collins and Sophia Hurdley (the overattentive valet and maid).
"Country" provided comic puppets garnishing an uproarious clog dance for Fitzpatrick and Collins plus darker pleasures, including a lyric ensemble led by Kamata and a more somber one featuring Collins. Throughout both halves the sense of expressive detail, of cheery defiance of balletic symmetry, of sophisticated musicality (respecting the form of the accompaniment while commenting on the content) exuded the mastery we've come to expect from Bourne — the invaluable one-man antidote to abstraction and empty narrative tradition in Anglo-American dance.
Unfortunately, technical problems sometimes intruded on Wednesday, the first of six performances, starting with painful over-amplification in "Watch With Mother" and persistent glare off Brotherston's mirrored proscenium panels.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
‘Matthew Bourne’s Early Adventures’
Where: Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills
When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $49-$109 (subject to change)
Information: (310) 746-4000, TheWallis.org
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes (including two intermissions)
Support coverage of the arts. Share this article.
MORE DANCE COVERAGE: