Matthew Bourne in the FT Magazine 'The Inventory'

26 April 2015

Interview by Hester Lacey 

‘My career is about movement but I’m a surprisingly still person these days’

Matthew Bourne, 55, has been artistic director of contemporary dance/theatre company New Adventures since 1987. He was appointed OBE in 2001 for services to dance and in 2014 was awarded the De Valois Award for Outstanding Achievement.

What was your earliest ambition?

I wanted to put on a show from the age of about five. I was jealous of child stars — the kids in Oliver!, Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

Sir George Monoux College in Walthamstow, an all-boys comprehensive. After A-levels, I got a filing job at the BBC, worked at the National Theatre in the bookshop and as an usher. I finally went to college at 22 and got my BA in dance theatre at the Laban Centre, now Trinity Laban.

Who was your mentor?

Fred Astaire has always been my idol and inspiration.

How physically fit are you?

People know me as someone whose career is about movement but I’m a surprisingly still person these days.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

You can’t get anywhere without talent but some people with talent don’t know how to play the game.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

I haven’t. I don’t think I’d do very well. I wouldn’t like to admit to some of the things I don’t know.

How politically committed are you?

There’s no particular party; I am attracted to issues like human rights, animal rights, gay rights, women’s rights — equality.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

I don’t drive and I had my house redesigned by an architect who’s very much into those issues.

Do you have more than one home?

A small house in London and a flat in Brighton that overlooks the sea.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

Things I didn’t have when I was a kid. Good theatre tickets — we always sat up in the balcony, even for a Christmas treat. Taxis, flowers for the house, little things.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

A car with a driver.

In what place are you happiest?

In a theatre, either as a viewer or as someone who works there.

What ambitions do you still have?

I’d like to create a film that uses what I’ve learnt about telling stories through movement and imagery.

What drives you on?

I feel there’s more to find out about the form of theatre I work in; storytelling through movement, dance, mime, anything but words. Audiences drive me — I want to please people. And because I’ve got older and the company stays young, developing new dancers as artists.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

To have taken dance to a much wider audience.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

You have little disappointments along the way but there’s nothing that’s really stayed with me.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?

He would be amazed to see I’m still doing what I was trying to do then: putting on a show in a much grander sense. He would be surprised at the scale of it.

If you had a coat of arms, what would be on it?

Music. Dance — the moving body. A chihuahua. London — I’m very proud to be a Londoner

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

Losing all your possessions could be almost liberating. I’ve piled up so much stuff over the years.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?

I support people who feel that’s something they want to control.

Do you believe in an afterlife?

It’s impossible to believe in something that you can’t prove but it’s a nice idea.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?

Nine. I feel privileged and grateful. 

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