Q & A WITH MATTHEW BOURNE
Q: Why were you attracted to Bizet’s CARMEN?
A: I resisted it for quite a while because there were so many versions of it, both ballet and opera but I kept listening to the music and I felt that it was the right kind of music for my company. I also felt that it suggested a different kind of movement than we have done before. Particularly listening to the Rodion Shchedrin version, which is the short 40 –minute ballet version using only strings and percussion, that got me really excited and I thought we’ve got to do this, we’ve got to use this music. But to stop myself and probably everyone else thinking, “oh god, not another CARMEN”, I thought well we’ll use the music but we’ll tell a different story and that’s what really inspired me and made the whole thing feel like an original project. I was also keen to create a “dance thriller”, full of plot twists and suspense. You can’t do that with a story people already know!
Q: How does New Adventures’ THE CAR MAN differ from the original CARMEN?
A: There are parallels with the opera story, there are elements of lust, passion, revenge and murder and all those things that are associated with CARMEN. There are at least two characters, a male character and a female character that you could say were “like” Carmen but there are no characters that are intended to actually be Carmen. More importantly, I think the essence of CARMEN is there but we’ve set it in a difference place and time. THE CAR MAN is set in an Italian-American community in a small mid-western American town in the early sixties. Although it’s set in America there is quite a European feel to the production and although there are some obvious American elements we’ve tried to add a more gritty realism, more associated with Italian, French and Spanish cinema, and avoid Hollywood glamour.
Q: So place is not so important, it’s flavour and feeling of the period that matters?
A: Well. We’ve come up with a name for this fictional town, which is Harmony – it’s also by chance the name of several real towns in the States. I was looking for something charming like Pleasantville, a name that could become increasingly ironic as the story develops. The characters are very gutsy and real, requiring a whole different acting style from much of the New Adventures repertory. It was certainly a change of direction in 2000 following the royal court and lakeside fantasy of SWAN LAKE and the more genteel period feel of our war time CINDERELLA. THE CAR MAN has always been the piece that has challenged my Company most as actors The movement that came from this was also much more earthy and gritty and contemporary in feel.
Q: Earlier you mentioned the orchestration by Rodion Shchedrin being only 40 minutes long so presumably the other hour of music was commissioned?
A: Yes. I really love the Shchedrin music and wanted to use this so I contacted Terry Davies and asked him to compose further music based on Bizet’s CARMEN. There is a substantial amount of great music that Shchedrin did not use in his version and so Terry’s brief was to use this other music, again with strings and percussion, to come up with a full-length score. With other shows that I have choreographed, NUTCRACKER, HIGHLAND FLING, SWAN LAKE and CINDERELLA, I have worked to an existing score and I made the story fit the score but with this piece, I was able to work in reverse so with certain scenes or dances I have been able to ask, what kind of music do we need for this? In that sense, it was the first time I had collaborated with a composer to create a complete score. I think that the results are very filmic and incredibly contemporary in feel. A tribute not only to Terry, but to the enduring genius of Bizet
Q: You were talking earlier about the characters being different from the original CARMEN, is there a title CAR MAN character?
A: Well the title of the show is there partly to make a differentiation with this production and previous versions of CARMEN but also to give an indication that we are retaining elements of the original, particularly in the case of the music. In terms of character it is quite literal really and it relates to the idea of mechanics working in a garage where most of the production is set. More specifically the character of Luca, a stranger who arrives in Harmony at the beginning of the show and takes a part-time job as a mechanic at the local Garage/Diner. He is really THE CAR MAN, the title character. Luca is a kind of fate figure who affects everyone’s lives and becomes the catalyst for change.
Q: So why revive THE CAR MAN in 2007?
The company travels around the world now with our shows and “The Car Man” has become the show that is most regularly mentioned to me as a “favourite” amongst audience members. Maybe the Channel 4 film has increased the appitite for the show, but it oddly seems to have gained in reputation since we stopped performing it! Its also the most popular show amongst my dancers who all want the chance to play these challenging roles. Although I’m delighted to have some original cast members returning, there is a whole new generation of talented performers ready to take up that challenge. It’s also a favourite of mine because it combines my great love of cinema with a highly theatrical approach. We also get to watch lots of great movies for research!