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New Adventures

'Dorian Gray'
Choreographed by Matthew Bourne

by Cathy Scott

September 16, 2009 -- Curve, Leicester

The Oscar Wilde classic “Dorian Gray” has caused quite a stir recently, with the release of a new film version and a national tour of British choreographer Matthew Bourne’s interpretation that included a visit to Leicester.

The original story revolves around Dorian, who begins as a shy and curious character. He meets Basil Hallward, a gentleman who has Dorian’s best interests at heart, and becomes infatuated with him. He is later introduced to a rebellious character Lord Henry who shows Dorian a world of temptation and indulgence. Henry helps him find a side he did not know existed. Gradually, vanity becomes his priority, and he descends into a life of sex, drugs and self-obsession. His soul is captured in a painting, and as he takes darker pathways, his picture becomes more and more grotesque, representing the evil within him. He is immortal and, retaining his beauty, he gradually kills his friends in order to protect his secret.

Bourne adds a modern twist to this 19th century tale. Dorian’s soul is locked within a photo taken by Basil, rather than a painting. The rebel Lord Henry, who is the initial influence that leads Dorian astray, is played by a female.  Finally, the scenes of the show revolve around photography studios, clubs and apartments.

Choreographers who take on a narrative with such strong characters are faced automatically with the challenge of portraying that story through a series of movements and actions.  Speech is out of bounds or at least limited. Bourne tackles this challenge with enthusiasm and the result is an entertaining and imaginative piece of dance theatre! 

The movement content of this work is by no means technically genius; however, the choreography effectively tells the story. For example, in the first few scenes we see much use of linear hand movements framing the face as well as stationary poses -- all of which help portray the theme of vanity and stress the importance of beauty.

Technical ability is not what this piece is about. Nevertheless, the dancers are accomplished: Richard Winsor, who plays Dorian’s ‘soul’, displays immense strength and skill in his movements, in particular in hanging from the ladders on the side of the set.

Along with Bourne’s impressive interpretation of the narrative, credit is also due to the composer, Terry Davies. The music is gripping; I especially enjoyed the manic percussion in the faster scenes that really added to the pace of the drama. The set, designed by Lez Brotherston, aids the progression of the narrative and consists of a revolving platform enabling quick set changes and entrances and exits for the dancers.

What Bourne creates is dance that can be enjoyed by all. He merges interesting choreographic ideas with a strong storyline and creates work that can be admired by a wide range of theatregoers, not just dance fans.

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