"Anything different takes a while for people to get used to, and if some people think my work is mainstream because it’s popular, others still feel it’s edgy,” Sir Matthew Bourne says patiently.

“It’s not Dirty Dancing The Musical – we still have to tell a story through dance - and we always give the audience something to take home and think about. But the critics are always the slowest to catch on," he adds.

Not that he has to justify himself, because with his latest work, dance extravaganza Red Shoes selling like hot cakes, people selling their own grandmothers to get tickets, the public’s response speaks for itself.

Those of you who’ve seen it (see review on page 44) will understand the hype. It’s an absolute triumph, and next up is Early Adventures at the Oxford Playhouse, retracing his first works, “bits and pieces” as Matthew puts it.

“It’s the 30th anniversary of the company this year so it felt like a good time to do something new and look back at how it all started – that’s the impetus for it, to look at where it all came from, the hallmark moves, the humour, the surprises, it’s all in there. So it was quite cathartic and very nostalgic.

“Back then I used to choreograph my own body when I was still dancing, so I used to work out all the moves in front of a mirror.”

And yet it gives you an insight into how this charming, chatty, comfortable man came to be arguably the country’s greatest choreographer, and where all his wonderful kitsch, kookie ideas

Continued on page 38

come from. “I spent a lot of time watching, rather than doing, which fed me with all those images. I got into dance late so I watched thousands of movies, travelled all over the world and attended dance shows most nights of the week before I started the dance company and then stored the ideas in the back of my mind.

“It’s funny to look back now and think that when we first did Swan Lake we couldn’t find 14 male dancers, and now we have hundreds applying for every place in the company. But in the early 80s and late 90s when we started, there was no humour or narrative in dance, so we’d turn up to the theatre and ask how many tickets they’d sold and they’d say ‘30, but we are hoping for 50’, and that was so exciting because people were taking a chance even though they didn’t know anything about us.”

And yet Red Shoes was different. His former works - the all male Swan Lake, Cinderella, Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty, were all well known, but Red Shoes was a story few people remembered.

So how did it come about? “I wrote a list in an old notebook of all my ideas for future productions and then forgot about it. I found it recently while having a clear up and there was Red Shoes. But then I’m normally thinking about several things at once.

“I do a lot of research around an idea as well to try to crack it. It took me a while to work our Sleeping Beauty for example, but once I’d decided on the overblown gothic Draculean theme, everything fell into place very quickly, and the music follows.

“In The Red Shoes for example, there are elements of Hitchcock, beach ball ballet, comical Egyptian dancing, Monte Carlo and Citizen Kane. It’s about exploring the images again and bringing them together,” Matthew explains.

“I quite enjoy the release, letting all these ideas out and watching them come to fruition because I don’t do many pieces. And people have come to trust me. With Red Shoes we thought we’d have to really publicise it to get them excited, but in the end we didn’t because people wanted to give it a try anyway. They had seen enough to know what they liked and what to expect, which is an amazing feeling when the audience intrinsically trust you.

“That’s why it’s important to support the work by taking it around the country. I’m proud of it. I love the job I do, it’s a responsibility I’ve got used to, but fundamentally it’s about entertaining people.

“I’m not interested in being a person in my own right. I’ve been asked to be a Strictly judge but I’m not interested. My work speaks for itself.”

A familiar face in the audience, the 57 year-old comes to all his shows. “I like to let them wash over me, to feel what the audience feels and see how they react, what works and what doesn’t, and then I just enjoy myself. I like to feel part of the experience.”

What’s next is always an issue for this man, who moves from triumph to triumph, feeding the fire: “Too much maybe,” Matthew suggests, “and The Red Shoes is so recent, so with Early Adventures coming up I can’t think about anything else. I’m artistically exhausted, so I’m going to enjoy the moment and something will come up I’m sure. Perhaps I need that holiday after all.”

Sir Matthew Bourne's Early Adventures is at Oxford Playhouse on March 6-8