Like a little kiddywink, I was practically counting the sleeps until a certain show rolled into town this week. Which is kind of fitting, as it was choreographer Matthew Bourne’s take on old family favourite the Nutcracker I couldn’t wait to see on the Empire stage. Something strange has crept up on me in recent times – as a regular theatregoer, I just can’t get enough of (*does jazz hands*) dance.
For the longest time I never quite got dance, and for some reason never really had much confidence in being able to get it. It seemed the kind of thing that required some sort of secret knowledge to crack, that must naturally be complicated, and elitist and intimidating.
There was only one way to get over this in the end; by sitting through plenty of the stuff. Eventually, I realised I was doing it by choice. Wowsers. It all made sense. There was nothing to it. Even contemporary dance and physical theatre became less of a sitcom cliche and more a genuinely exciting thing, a new and beautiful way of storytelling that could amaze and inspire just as much as plays.
Short pieces, like Vogue choreographies from city dancer Darren Suarez, tell tales of empowerment and identity as much as sex and style. The work of Merseyside Dance Initiative has just earned its head Karen Gallagher a well-deserved MBE. The physical theatre of companies like Tmesis can be very funny and extremely touching. And anytime, anywhere, a good, old-fashioned chorus line just makes everything better.
The dance programme of Homotopia has always been an eye opener too. The work of choreographer Joseph Mercier may not be to everyone’s taste given his penchant for getting his cock out, but there’s such a contrast between the goofy kid in a hoodie he appears to be before and after the show, and the confident sensual performer that flourishes on stage.
It was gutting to miss last year’s At Swim Two Boys from Earthfall, a piece that took place as the floor of the Unity filled up with water. It’s that otherworldliness of contemporary dance that finally has me hooked. It’s a real escape from the outside world.
The work of Matthew Bourne (which includes his innovative all-male Swan Lake) has been the thing to ram that home. His sense of preserving tradition while at the same time bringing something truly original to the table is something that really gives an audience the best of all worlds.
He doesn’t mess with the formula for the hell of it or to cause outrage; there’s a dedication, a sense of adventure and a vision that is clear. Watching his last production, a faultless adaptation of Prokofiev’s Cinderella, it seemed every movement of every character helped to tell the story in a clear, skilful and impeccably beautiful manner.
I wept through that show practically from beginning to end and came out ever-so slightly changed. Wanting more. Bourne’s promise to bring a show to Liverpool every year from now on, as he said a recent interview, is always going to be something to look forward to.
Vicky Anderson is a journalist and PR, former culture reporter and acting arts editor for the Liverpool Daily Post, now running theatre website madeup.lv, and figuring out how to run an arts festival as part of the Independents Biennial team.
Images by Simon Annand