- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2007

Smack-dab in the middle of one of the Kennedy Center’s most staunchly conservative ballet seasons comes riding into town a dance story of a man who had scissors where his hands should have been, based on a Tim Burton cult movie starring renegade actor Johnny Depp and set to a score by “Batman” composer Danny Elfman.

“Edward Scissorhands” (the dance), which opens at the Kennedy Center Opera House for a week’s run next Tuesday, promises to be a change of pace for subscribers also scheduled to see such old standbys as “Romeo and Juliet,” “Don Quixote” and “Cinderella” this season.

“Edward” is the brainchild of Matthew Bourne, who 12 years ago created a radical reconstruction of “Swan Lake” with male swans wearing feathered britches and who continues to find ideas in unlikely places. His company, New Adventures, is attracting new audiences in unprecedented numbers, drawn to his dramatic way of combining film imagery and elements of musical comedy, theater and ballet.

Mr. Bourne admits that his path to leading an internationally touring dance company was as unconventional as the work he now creates. Movies, with their rich imagery, were a real passion for him growing up. He mentions two big influences: Alfred Hitchcock (“His films are such pure entertainment, they’re exciting and glamorous with intriguing story lines”) and Fred Astaire — “He’s my big idol. I learned so much from him about making dance feel normal — the way Astaire walks, and suddenly, his walk turns into a dance.”

But all this was just as a fan. He tried being an actor when he was 15. “I didn’t like using my voice, I found I was very self-conscious.” Mr. Bourne didn’t start dancing till his early 20s.

Out of all this he brings a unique sensibility to the stage — part modern dance, part ballet, part musical comedy, part theater — that has won him audiences all over the globe. His idiosyncratic “Swan Lake” has played on Broadway, just finished an 11-week season at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London and is setting out to tour Greece and Australia, then goes on to Moscow. In England, a whole young generation that has seen his work is surprised to learn there’s a corps of female swans in the original.

When he saw the film “Edward Scissorhands” he was drawn to it for many reasons.

“I love Danny Elfman’s music. It felt theatrical. It felt emotional, and you could tell a story with it.” (Mr. Elfman’s music has been adapted by Terry Davies and will be played by the opera house orchestra.)

Mr. Bourne was also taken with the film’s imagery. “I thought it would be a gift to our designer, Lez Brotherston, with the snow, the ice sculptures, the odd mix of the gothic and suburban worlds. And I loved the challenge of a character who has these hands that will become a problem for movement and partnering. It’s very helpful for a choreographer to have a restriction like that.

“But mainly I think the hands represent anything that’s different about anyone. If you felt different at any point in your life you could relate to him, he becomes a universal character — particularly to young teenagers. It’s wonderful to see them find something they can identify with.”

Mr. Bourne’s wide appeal to new audiences is something he is proud of, although he insists he doesn’t cater to it.

“I pick the work because it’s the work I want to do. I don’t think, ‘Oh this is going to get an audience.’ I’m just so lucky that what I want to do has become so popular.”

Mr. Bourne wants to keep on doing just what he’s doing. He has two projects out on the road now — “Swan Lake” and “Edward Scissorhands” — plus some he wants to revive and others he’s considering. “I’m thinking of Romeo. I’ve got an idea for a Dorian Gray story.” All this, plus the challenge of hiring and working with 70 dancers — 40 in “Swan Lake,” 30 in “Edward Scissorhands.”

“That’s really my big love, running this company,” Mr. Bourne says. “It’s a lot of people’s lives to be dealing with… all those dancers and all their careers.”

WHAT: Matthew Bourne’s “Edward Scissorhands”

WHEN: Next Tuesday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m., next Saturday and Sunday (Feb. 17-18) at 1:30 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House

TICKETS: $29 to $84

PHONE: 202/467-4600

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