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Bourne, Matthew (b. 1960)  
 
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Matthew Bourne, perhaps the most acclaimed British choreographer working today, is best known for his updatings and deconstructions of classic ballets. His restaging of Prokofiev's Cinderella takes place during the London Blitz of 1940; Highland Fling, his re-appraisal of the classic La Sylphide, is set in Glasgow's underground drug scene; The Car Man, a gender-reversed re-imagining of the opera Carmen, takes place in an auto repair garage and features graphically choreographed same-sex seduction.

Bourne's most notorious, and acclaimed, production is an eroticized Swan Lake, with an all-male pack of bare-chested, aggressive swans. It was quickly dubbed the "gay Swan Lake" by both the British and American press.

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Biographical Details

Born into a working-class family on January 13, 1960, Matthew Bourne grew up in Walthamstow, East London. He inherited a love of theater and Hollywood musicals from his parents, who supported his growing interest in the performing arts.

At an early age Bourne began imitating the movies he saw at the local cinema; his father helped build sets and his mother provided props and costumes. Bourne's early productions, attended by friends and neighbors, included reenactments of such children's classics as Lady and the Tramp and Mary Poppins.

Already developing his own style and vision, he staged his first version of Cinderella at the age of eight, with boys playing the girls' roles and girls in the boys' roles. Bourne's brother Dan was cast as Cinderella and Matthew himself played one of the ugly stepsisters.

Bourne has described himself as "always well-adjusted, with never any confusion" about his homosexuality. He came out when he was 18 by calling the telephone number for the British Gay Switchboard, which was printed on the sleeve of Tom Robinson's song Glad to Be Gay. An operator working the switchboard directed Bourne to a gay youth club in a suburb near his home, where he found acceptance and friendships.

Bourne attended the Sir George Monoux mixed comprehensive school in Walthamstow. Upon graduation he went to work in the archives department of the BBC. He next took a job at the Keith Prowse theater agency, and later worked in the bookstore, and as an usher, at the National Theatre. A fellow usher encouraged him to study dance, which Bourne clearly loved, and suggested that he enroll at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, which offered a Bachelor of Arts course in Dance Theater.

Although at 22 he was older than most of the Centre's students, and had no previous formal training, Bourne's prodigious knowledge of theater and dance, and his cheerful enthusiasm, helped him win a place at the school. In 1986 he obtained a degree in dance and theater, and then spent a year performing in Laban's Transitions Company.

In 1987, Bourne and several friends from the Laban Centre decided to form their own dance company. They called their seven-member troupe Adventures in Motion Pictures (AMP). The group traveled throughout England in a minivan, putting on shows with such unconventional titles as Does Your Crimplene Go All Crusty When You Rub?

After a few years, most of the founding members had split off to join other, more established companies and Bourne found himself in charge of the group. He began to stage a series of shows that embraced a more cinematic and highly theatrical approach. For example, a 1991 Bourne-directed piece called Deadly Serious was based on scenarios derived from several films by Alfred Hitchcock.

Nutcracker! and Swan Lake

AMP's turning point came in 1992, with a commission from the Edinburgh Festival for a staging of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ballet's first performance in St. Petersburg. It was Bourne's first attempt at choreographing a full-length production, and the first time AMP had challenged itself with a classical ballet. Bourne's Nutcracker!, set within an orphanage, with the nutcracker prince recast as a ventriloquist's dummy, was a critical success.

The achievement of Nutcracker! gave Bourne the courage three years later to undertake Tchaikovsky's best-known and much loved ballet, Swan Lake. Bourne determined to strip away all conventional expectations in his staging and to set the story (about a young prince who falls in love with a swan) in as plausible a context as possible.

He began by casting an all-male corps de ballet. "Their enormous wingspan, their power, the violence that swans can erupt into--all that suggested male rather than female dancers," Bourne explained.

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