Matthew Bourne: why should the dance world be snobby about Strictly Come Dancing?

The choreographer of the famed all-male Swan Lake says that ballet should celebrate the passion for dance that Strictly has inspired

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Ballet director Matthew Bourne is an avid follower of Strictly Come Dancing, tweeting and critiquing along with millions of others every Saturday night. So it’s no wonder that he’s keen for ballet to take advantage of the shot in the arm that Strictly has given dance.

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The director and choreographer of the acclaimed all-male production of Swan Lake believes that ballet and the dance world in general should never be snobby about what Strictly has achieved.

“I love it!” Bourne told an audience at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. “I seriously appreciate what Strictly’s done for dance.

“The dance world can be a bit snobby about things, as we know, and Strictly’s maybe one of them. What Strictly’s done is make everyone into critics to a certain extent, because we all look and analyse the dances. But in a good way, because also what it does do is when someone is praised we understand why this was better than last week, what they’ve gained.”

This year there’s the added intrigue of having Helen George, who used to do ballet as a child.

Strictly judge Darcey Bussell too shares a ballet background with Bourne, having been principal dancer at The Royal Ballet before retiring in 2007. But Bourne says that Bussell has become far more famous for her role on Strictly than for her ballet career.

Ballet choreographer and director Matthew Bourne

“She was saying to me the other day that a lot of people she meets now don’t realise she had a dancing career! She has to explain to people what she used to do.

“It’s very true though, it has such an enormous audience compared to what you can get as a dancer,” he added.

Bourne’s production of Sleeping Beauty is about to go on a UK tour, and the choreographer hopes that ballet takes the chance to make more of dance’s rising popularity.

“I wonder whether in the next twenty years we will be calling it the English National Dance Company rather than the English National Ballet Company, and The Royal Dance Company [rather than The Royal Ballet],” he said. “There seems to be this cross-fertilisation going on that’s never happened before. The Royal Ballet and English National Ballet, our two biggest ballet companies, are commissioning contemporary choreographers more to work with them.”

This, he believes, is a positive thing for ballet: “I feel there’s some merging going on, which has invigorated ballet,” he said.

“A few years back ballet was on the way down as an art form. There was a book written about it by Jennifer Homans, and she made this statement that ballet is dead. Everyone got a little upset. But in a sense she was on to something.

“Since then things have changed. I think what has changed is that dance forms are coming closer together. Also the popularity of dancing in different areas is becoming much more popular, with things like Strictly, things like hip hop festivals. All sort of different dance.

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“But I think ultimately I’d like to see – as a prediction I’d like to see happen – is we start using the word ‘dance’ rather than ‘ballet’, and that it covers everything. If you’re a great dancer, you’re a great dancer. That’s my prediction.”