Sunday, February 08, 2009

Walsh on Bourne

Align Left

Domenico Luciano in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake.

Photo by Mark Roden

Dominic Walsh will be the first to bring Matthew Bourne's work to Houston, and there's more. Dominic Walsh Dance Theater is only dance company outside of Bourne's own troupe to have received permission to perform the pas de deux from Bourne's revolutionary Swan Lake, a gender bender ballet that turned the classic on its feathered head. Walsh tells the story below.

Dance Source Houston: How did you meet Matthew Bourne?

Dominic Walsh: We were both setting works on The Sarasota Ballet and staying at Iain Webb's (the artistic director) house. He was setting Infernal Gallop and I was creating Wolfgang for Webb.

DSH: Did you connect?

DW: I was nervous at first. But I found him so approachable and easy to talk to. There's no airs about him at all. I have such respect for his work and I resonate on so many levels with his process. So, yes, I felt a strong connection. He watched my techs and dress rehearsals and gave me ideas on lighting. He was very generous.

DSH: Did he know your work?

DW: I don't know. He checked out my website while I was there and watched my Sleeping Beauty, which he really enjoyed. So, he knows my work now.

DSH: So how did you end up getting the pas from his Swan Lake?

DW: I couldn't gather enough nerve to ask him while I was there so I asked him in an email. I didn't hear back right away, but Iain assured me that he doesn’t always respond to emails right away, so I emailed him again. I heard back immediately and he said yes, it would be perfect for us and that Domenico should be the Swan and you the prince. It was amazing.

DSH: What happened next?

DW: We went to London and learned the piece in four days from Scott Ambler, the original Prince, and Etta Murfitt, both Artistic Associates. Matt came in the last day to clean up. All three of them were very encouraging and complimentary to us, especially with Domenico’s interpretation and the many qualities he brings to the role. At one point after our run for Etta on the third day, she expressed that some sections are looking the best she’s seen.

DSH: What do you find remarkable in Bourne's Swan Lake?

DW: I saw it in London in 1997 and thought it was the most brilliant piece. It's so respectful of the music; he gave a new chapter of life to Tchaikovsky's score. There's such honesty in its human gestural moments as well, he's made poetry from the mundane. You can learn more on the piece at Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake.

DSH: How does this pas de deux speak to you as a male dancer?

DW: Well, almost any male dancer that has seen this ballet wants to do the part of the Swan. It's so multifaceted and challenging for a dancer on so many levels.

DSH: I suppose you danced a lot of Swan Lakes in your career.

DW: Yes. I danced the role of Siegfried in Ben Stevenson's Swan Lake for years.

DSH: What about the role of the Swan for Domencio?

DW: At 6'3'' he is a powerful presence, and then he has those dark brooding eyes. He's a great fit for the role, and it’s a perfect vehicle for him. He has this calm adagio quality, and gives such care to all of his choices. It's his year.

DSH: And you get to the dance the role of the prince again?

DW: This is a prince of a different order. It's about a man that has never known freedom or comfort, and he's created this beautiful bird in his imagination, an image that holds the idea of peace and freedom. I think he has manifested a companion to hang on to and break free with. Like the traditional Swan Lake, Matthew’s role of the Prince also has the dilemma of needing to break free from his responsibilities of royalty, but has a more multifaceted physiological journey through the production.

DSH: Is it daunting to be the first person dancing Bourne in Houston?

DW: No. It's exciting, especially knowing I have Matt's blessing.

DSH: The show also features Jirí Kylián's Double You, and two of your older works, Bello, winner of three 2005 Dance Europe Critic's Choice awards, and For the Two of You, created in honor of Julie Gumbinner and Lucas Priolo's wedding. How did that piece come about?

DW: The work developed from a place of simple honest gestures toward each other that really demonstrated who these accomplished dancers are as people. We have two couples dancing the duet from our company and they have really taken it to a new and wonderful place.

DHS: How do you see the whole feel of the show?

DW: It will be a great introduction to the company. If you thought Titus Andronicus was too much to handle, you can see another, sweeter side of Dominic Walsh Dance Theater. And there's also a bit of a Valentine's theme going on as well.

DSH: What's up next?

DW: Big stuff. We end our season with The Trilogy-Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart It's a huge cast, as Dominic Walsh Dance Theater will join forces with the Sarasota Ballet. We will be performing in Sarasota and here. This idea of “The Trilogy” has literally exploded into a major event. Amadeus won my second Choo-San Goh award and Mozart won the Princess Grace Award. Designers Libbie Masterson, Nic Phillips, and Domenico Luciano make up a perfect team to explore this wildly familiar and successful composer. I hope to bring something new to the way we see music and hear dance and The Trilogy has proven to provide just that. Mozart’s music is timeless and powerful – it absolutely perpetuates growth for me as a movement inventor.

Dominic Walsh Dance Theater presents Bourne-Kylián-Walsh: A Masterful Mixed Repertoire on February 12-14, 2009 at 7:30 PM, at Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Zilkha Hall. Call 713-315-2525 or visit

Reprinted from Dance Source Houston.