It's best if Matthew Bourne's characters don't get too sure of themselves. When his would-be model Dorian sees photographer Basil, they're both struck and both uncertain. Circling each other, posing and being posed, they mix sexual attraction, pragmatic interest and narcissism. As the scene shifts to a romantic pas de deux, all the life goes out of it. It's the doubts and ambiguities that make Bourne's people human and compelling.
Bourne is now the world's most popular choreographer, an international hit since the success of his Swan Lake with male swans. The advance ticket sales of his new Dorian Gray have already made it the most highly attended dance event in the Edinburgh Festival's history.
Dorian Gray updates Oscar Wilde's fable of the picture in the attic, moving the story to a modern world of fashion and photography. Some of the characters have changed sex: the corrupting Lord Henry is now Lady H, while the love interest, Sybil Vane, has become Cyril. Dorian himself is now an It Boy, the face of a new perfume. "Immortal, pour homme", announce the billboards.
As the story darkens, the poster smudges and rips, a long tear turning "immortal" into "mortal". A doppelganger starts to haunt Dorian, watching or taking over as his relationships turn cruel and then violent. In a brilliantly creepy moment, Dorian takes his double's hand, resigned and almost tender. Then he smothers him, an act which causes his own death.
Bourne is a deft story-teller, with sharp characterisation and witty detail. Yet his choreography isn't really about steps. His greatest gift is showing character through movement. How his dancers stand, how they look at each other, matters more than the footwork. Dorian Gray's pure dance scenes – and there are far too many of them – are all padding. Catwalk models pose, or go through generic jumps and turns. Dorian's romantic dreams of an affair with Cyril are tedious. When Bourne shows us the reality, it's awkward, much less dancey, but gripping. Dorian tries to nestle against his lover, a self-absorbed dancer who needs to get on with his stretches.
Lez Brotherston's designs can set up a scene or a character in an instant. Terry Davies's atmospheric score moves from sinister hums to plucked mandolin sounds.
The cast are terrific. Richard Winsor is a pouting Dorian, switching in an instant from vulnerability to viciousness and back again. Michela Meazza is all elegant lines and angles as Lady H; Jared Hageman is a quietly sinister doppelganger. The corps may have too much posing to do, but they come to life when they spot Dorian: something they want, something they need.Reuse content