When he transformed the ballet Swan Lake into an award-winning all-male production, Matthew Bourne took the dance world by storm. Now the choreographer is adapting Oscar Wilde's gothic morality tale The Picture of Dorian Gray into a contemporary dance piece as one of the highlights of this summer's Edinburgh International Festival, launched in the Scottish capital yesterday.
Wilde's novel tells the story of a handsome young man who wishes his portrait would grow old in his place. His wish is granted and he remains youthful and beautiful, pursuing an ever-more debauched life as his painting grows older and uglier.
The novel was first published in 1890, but Bourne's dance adaptation will be set in a contemporary world and staged at Edinburgh's King's Theatre, one of the festival's more intimate venues. The festival's director, Jonathan Mills, said: "It's a coup. From the man who brought us the all-male Swan Lake, I think this is a more serious work from Matthew, a real departure."
The international spotlight fell on Bourne in 1995, when Swan Lake premiered at Sadler's Wells in London with male dancers taking on all the parts, dancing to Tchaikovsky's original music with strongly homoerotic overtones.
In his second year as director, Mills – who took over the reins from Sir Brian McMaster in 2006 – has chosen as his theme the challenges and changes facing Europe in the 21st century. This year's festival, the 62nd, which runs from 8 to 31 August, has a very different line-up from his debut last year, which featured much early and Renaissance music. The Australian composer said: "When I arrived from Australia, I had this preconception of Europe as a staid place. What I found is a community which is expanding and contracting at the same time. There's a lot of activity and soul-searching about what it means to be a European. I wanted to harvest that excitement."
Artists from Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bosnia and Georgia will be present. Their work is juxtaposed with performers from Lebanon, Turkey, the Palestinian territories, Israel and Iran – with an emphasis on the more contemplative aspects of Islam in pieces such as Looking at Tazieh, a video installation from the Iranian film-maker Abbas Kiarostami, and Jidariyya, a poetic play from the Palestinian National Theatre.
Dance is prominent, with the first appearance at the festival by the Whirling Dervishes, the Sufi sect from Turkey, as well as the State Ballet of Georgia performing Giselle. "You don't just need to think of dance as tutus and chocolate boxes," said Mills. "It can be about hypnosis and mesmeric rhythms."
Gypsy music is another important strand of the 2008 festival – symbolising the crossing of European boundaries. Mills said: "In questioning ourselves about borders, it was important to include the rich tradition of the roving musician, the artistic nomad, the troubadour, the gypsy."Reuse content