Review- Matthew Bourne’s “Dorian Gray” – Sadler’s Wells


After months of anticipation, last night I finally got to see Matthew Bourne’s “Dorian Gray.” A conversation before the show went like this:

“I’ve heard it wasn’t received well in Edinburgh.”
“Really? Why?”
“Well, they described it as ‘vacuous’.”
“But it’s all about being vacuous! You’ll have a great time.”

Well, as it turns out, I actually found my evening rather boring. The key problem was that Bourne failed to create any real emotional interaction between the dancers. Did Dorian and his photographer feel a really strong passion for each other? I couldn’t see it. The dancer Dorian picked up, when did they become boyfriends? Was his death a tragedy? Was I supposed to care? I just didn’t, really, not for any of them. I watched the movement and I thought about what was happening and tried to piece together a story (since I don’t know the original), but without that connection between people there wasn’t really enough happening on stage to make me care.

In some ways, I feel this show highlights some of the weaknesses of Bourne as a choreographer, as his reliable helpers were stripped away and he was left to just what he could create from, well, nothing. He went out without the powerful music and proven story (i.e. Carmen) that have helped him make so many truly enjoyable works, and instead had to rely much more on his power as a creator. The music for this show was at times fun; I really enjoyed the live piano performance on the stage at one point and also the drumming. However, it was generally kind of bland, though at several points it was amplified to the point of pain – a very, very bad plan in an indoor DANCE venue. The story itself … well, I think it might be suitable for a dance performance, but for some reason, to me, it just seemed kind of … well, workshoppy, like he hadn’t quite filled in the holes yet to make it a good, continuous narrative. There were fun scenes, to be sure (such as the bit with the business cards being handed to Dorian – and might I add that when he later handed his own to the ballet dancer, I expected a Wayne Macgregor-like telling off, which made me giggle), and some of the dancing was … kinda fun (the man on man seduction scene early on had a fair amount of energy), but … when all was said and done, I got my real joy at the end, hearing Adam and the Ants’ “Prince Charming” being played over Sadler’s Wells’ excellent PA system. It’s short, at least, at two hours including interval, but in its current incarnation I would call this production – with the exception of the mirror covered, skull shaped disco ball in Act 2, which I crave – just not ready for prime time.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008. I watched from the main floor, row K, which I highly recommend.)

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