Matthew Bourne’s ‘Dorian Gray’ will never grow old, says its lead dancer, Richard Winsor

by Nobuko Tanaka

Special To The Japan Times

“Matthew and I are very excited to see how Japanese audiences react — but I think everyone is absolutely going to love this show,” English dancer Richard Winsor said at a Tokyo press conference held in May to preview next week’s season of Matthew Bourne’s “Dorian Gray,” in which he plays the title role.

Winsor, 31, who trained at the Central School of Ballet in London, instantly won over that Tokyo gathering with his friendliness and the lady-killer smiles that won him the part of cleric Father Francis, the convincing con man, in “Hollyoaks,” a popular British teen-drama TV series.

The world premier season of “Dorian Gray” at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2008, drew rave reviews and is now the stuff of legend for dance fans. Based on Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1890) it follows a Victorian aristocrat’s descent from narcissism to dissolution and worse. Bourne’s reworking, however, introduces a new character — Dorian Gray’s doppelgänger — and forsakes the original’s class-based context.

Gray is instead a vain male model suddenly propelled to the flighty heights of the fashion world where — as danced on different nights by Winsor and Yusuke Onuki — we see him plunge from wild partying, through sex, drugs and booze, until he finally loses his grip on reality.

Winsor first came to Japan in 2002 as a lead dancer with Bourne’s New Adventures company’s production of “The Car Man” (an adaptation of Bizet’s opera “Carmen” with an all-male cast). He has since returned three times with NA for “Play Without Words” (2004), “Edward Scissorhands” (2006) and “Swan Lake” (2010).”

This time, Winsor’s role is split with Onuki, and the production itself is “right out there” — including its cool, minimalist and stylish backdrop unlike anything Winsor’s ever danced in before.

In an interview after the press conference, Winsor talked frankly about his reading of Dorian Gray’s certainly narcissistic but also darker, demonically inclined character — and about his own experience of being a celebrity, which in Japan will loom larger after his upcoming performances at the Orchard Hall in Tokyo.

How did you feel after the tumultuous applause at the premier of “Dorian Gray” at the Edinburgh Festival in 2008?

There was such a build-up to that night, and also a buzz throughout the whole of the festival that crossed over from the dance world to the theater world — that was really exciting. The piece itself had only just been finished, so we were still really tense about whether it would hang together. We knew things needed to be changed and tidied up, but the audiences were so honest and warm about what we’d done.

It was a really exciting moment of my career, because it was the first show Matthew (Bourne) created for me — so it’s almost my show. I inspired the piece, which was weird (laughs).

I’ve read that you say you can’t comprehend Dorian Gray’s passion for celebrity. What did you mean by that?

You can become obsessed with celebrity. That’s the danger when you start searching for it, when you start to need it — it’s like an addiction. I can see that, but I don’t need it.

So you’ve never had a Dorian Gray moment in your life?

Oh yes (laughs). In certain situations — for your gain, to get what you want — I am sure everyone’s like him to certain levels. Afterward, you learn whether it was beneficial, or useful or not. If it was and it hasn’t hurt anybody, then it’s okay. But if you get into a rut, and you’re striving to get out of it, and in doing that you think you are in control but actually you’re trying to control everyone around you — then that’s very Dorian Gray. It’s dangerous and you can get lost in that.

What’s special about this program compared with earlier New Adventure productions?

Well, it’s the first piece Matthew has set in the modern day. It’s always going to be current, more cutting-edge and timeless because, you know, “The Car Man” is always going to be set in 1950s and Swan Lake is set in … mmm. This, though, will keep growing and changing because the style of what you are wearing can just match what’s there at the time. And because the set is basically just white, the things on it, the artworks and so on, can change with time. That’s really exciting.

Otherwise, it’s the most daring and audience-challenging of Matthew’s works. This is just blazingly daring: It is here, this is what it is, just take it or leave it. It’s about how celebrities hold themselves; it’s about excess; it’s about game. It’s really interesting what he’s done.

What was most attractive to you about this program?

It’s a continuous journey through the world that’s laid out there, and the characters that appear and connect with me. That in itself is extremely invigorating because it’s a natural journey.

There is one point where the set is going round and I am just walking slowly against the revolve but I am glued to the spot in the spotlight. Though my Dorian is searching for (his celebrity photographer) Basil, he is also searching for his lost soul. It’s really symbolic of what he’s gone through. As an actor, it’s very exciting to experience that every night and it takes me quite a bit to get over it.

What was it like when you first danced this role in 2008?

Well, both in rehearsals and live on stage, I was still discovering it. I was opening up all these doors and dealing with all the emotion that was coming up — and then suddenly to finish and go, “Ah-ha, that’s it …” — it took me a while to adjust. I remember my girlfriend at that time saying, “You are a bloody nightmare right now.”

You are trying to find things again — like trying to put a jigsaw back together again — and then you can say, “OK, this is me again.”

But, as a performer, I like immersing myself. As an actor you’ve got to, you are like a blank canvas and you have to immerse yourself.

Did you and Matthew share any particular vision for creating this role?

Well, we worked in a very filmic way. For me, “American Psycho” and Christian Bale’s role in it is very apparent with the slow buildup of his obsession with his looks and having nothing behind the mask; just grasping at aspects of other people’s lives he’s wanting to absorb. And then he goes into meltdown at the end.

And we also did lots of research into the trappings of celebrity — media events and red-carpet events and what people go through to build themselves up and enter that paparazzi world of “me, look at me” — before they’re just dropped into an emotional mess.

“Dorian Gray” runs July 11-15 at Bunkamura Orchard Hall in Shibuya, Tokyo. For more details, call Horipro at 03-3490-4949 or Bunkamura at 03-3477-9999 or visit hpot.jp/dorian_gray.