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To get some idea of the beanstalk-like progress of a Bourne show, consider Edward Scissorhands, which opened in London in November 2005. To bring Tim Burton's gothic coming-of-age film to the stage, New Adventures raised $2 million from investors, and Arts Council England put in a further $780,000. Scissorhands played British venues until the autumn of 2006, then took off for Korea, Japan and the U.S., where it toured until spring 2007. In May of this year, a revived version of the show traveled to Australia, launching a national tour at the Sydney Opera House. The company returns to Britain for Christmas 2008, then begins a European tour in the spring of 2009. By the end of that tour the piece will have racked up almost 500 performances, and requests to stage it continue to pour in from theater managers around the world. So far, the original investors have recouped their investment and made a 12% profit "Better, just, than a high-interest account," says Noble.
Bourne dates the beginning of his international career to an evening in 1997, when Gordon Davidson, founding artistic director of the Center Theater Group in Los Angeles, went to see a London production of Swan Lake, with its cast of virile, threatening male swans. "I was amazed by what he'd done," recalls Davidson, who retired in 2005. "I said to myself, we have to do it somehow." He brought the piece over to L.A.'s 2,000-seat Ahmanson Theater, whose audience was more used to touring Broadway shows than experimental dance. But when Davidson wrote to all his subscribers telling them: "Trust me on this one!" they came. "And after that, we took New York by storm."
Bourne's success, Davidson says, is born of his genius as a storyteller. "Pieces like Swan Lake are so artistically provocative, in the way you're given a chance to look at a work of art with fresh eyes." For Miyako Kanamori, an executive director of HoriPro, a Tokyo-based entertainment company that has presented Bourne's work in Japan, the appeal lies in the universality of his themes. Expressing human feelings through movement is a feature of traditional Japanese Noh plays, and familiarity with Kabuki drama, in which female parts are played by male actors, has made Bourne's Swan Lake instantly comprehensible to Japanese audiences. In addition, says Kanamori, there's "the uniqueness of his ideas. For instance, the huge cake set in Nutcracker, and the dancing hedges in Edward Scissorhands. Cuteness and decadence exist together, which suits Japanese people's taste."
In July 2009, Dorian Gray will head to Moscow's Mossovet Theater as part of the eighth Chekhov International Theater Festival. The seventh festival, in 2007, hosted Bourne's Swan Lake; the sixth, in 2005, featured his Play Without Words. "You can't imagine how popular Matthew is," says Galina Kolosova, coordinator of the festival. Play Without Words, which won an Olivier award following its run at London's National Theatre in 2003, is an adaptation of Joseph Losey's 1963 film The Servant. A witty, psychosexual drama set in an upper-class London household, it features several dancers in each of the lead roles a daring piece of staging that captivated Russian audiences. Marina Zayonts of the Moscow magazine Itogi remembers that even before Bourne arrived, she and other theater critics were passing around dvds of his work. What fascinated them was Bourne's "ability to break the generally accepted stereotypes," she says. "To us, this seemed to be an unheard-of courage."
If Bourne's shows speak to audiences all over the world, it's because he himself has such an acute comprehension of his medium. As a student in the early 1980s he was a near-obsessive balletomane, dissecting works by classical choreographers like Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan to work out how they established what he calls "that emotional mainline." But he also has an encyclopedic knowledge of film, and of how to apply its visual language in his own work. Speech, he believes, can often get in the way: "You feel things more deeply if there are no words." Go too far in the other direction, however into what Bourne calls "dance," with audible quotation marks and people disengage. Bourne's productions combine a precise middle course with translucent storytelling, leaving his audiences free to make the characters' emotional journey their own.
The effect is potent and compelling. Back in Moscow, where she is preparing to travel to Edinburgh for the Dorian Gray premiere, Kolosova describes the reaction of the 91-year-old former Bolshoi ballerina Olga Lepeshinskaya to Bourne's Swan Lake. Too frail to make it backstage from her box, the legendary People's Artist of the U.S.S.R. asked for a message to be sent to Bourne. "She wanted to tell him that this was the future," Kolosova recalls. "That this was the way forward."