Matthew Bourne celebrates the silver jubilee of his first stagings this year, and it is intriguing to chart the trajectory of his creative life over this period. From those very first and cheerfully irreverent choreographies, which make up this celebratory programme at Sadler’s Wells, by way of his versions of traditional ballet fare – his radical visions of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker – to such large essays as The Carman and Edward Scissorhands, Bourne has mined a vein of popular culture and identified himself as a dance-maker whose works have an immediate appeal, a finger exactly on the public pulse. And, like his work or resist it, his productions capture an audience’s attention, speak frankly and engagingly, and earn affection.
It was thus from his very earliest pieces, which have been revived and are on a UK tour. They look fresh, endearingly jolly. They are well danced, admirably set by Lez Brotherston, their jokes and tricks shown by a devoted cast. And, be it admiringly noted, their humour still boasts that youthful eagerness to amuse, that undeniable charm and those moments of grace or of wildest gaiety, that were so welcome from the very first.
Spitfire offered ballet’s most fevered moments (the Don Quixote pas de deux) sabotaged by advertisements for men’s underwear – and the finest white cotton posings still sit merrily on Minkus and his confrères. Town and Country was a catalogue of urban and pastoral clichés shown with a beady if disengaged eye. Cunningly timed, danced with the best attention available to the obvious, and very jolly, it is a nicely resourceful if slightly over-extended joke. (But in the elegiac Shallow Brown, a heart-tearer if ever I heard one, feeling is superbly controlled, and now potently expressed by the splendid Christopher Marney).
The closing Infernal Galop, ze French as seen by ze English, is somewhat less effective, although an encounter between chaps involving a Vespasienne is saucy, as true as makes no difference, and maniacally funny. It is a jolly evening, and the best advertisement and excuse for a jubilee.