'Scissorhands' Takes the Stage Choreographer Matthew Bourne talks about his new stage adaptation of the classic Tim Burton motion picture Edward Scissorhands.
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'Scissorhands' Takes the Stage

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'Scissorhands' Takes the Stage

'Scissorhands' Takes the Stage

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Once upon a time, in the wild imagine of movie director Tim Burton, there lived a boy named Edward. The creation of his inventor-father, Edward had the soul of an artist, but instead of hands, he had scissors.

(Soundbite of film, "Edward Scissorhands")

Ms. WINONA RYDER (Actress): (As Kim) What happened to you?

Mr. JOHNNY DEPP (Actor): (As Edward Scissorhands) I'm not finished.

Ms. DIANE WIEST: (As Peg) Oh, put those down. Don't come any closer. Just, please. Those are your hands? Those are your hands.

HANSEN: "Edward Scissorhands" became a cult hit after film's release in 1990. The star, Johnny Depp, played the shy artist with the outrageous hairdo, but he only had a few lines. The graceful snips of his scissors were his form of expression.

Perhaps it was only then a matter of time before film and dance cross-pollinated to form Matthew Bourne's new production, "Edward Scissorhands." Bourne choreographs many of his dance numbers to the film's original movie score by Danny Elfman, but he's also commissioned a few new tunes for this version.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: The reach of Matthew Bourne's choreography extends from "Swan Lake" to "Mary Poppins." His vision for "Edward Scissorhands" embraces romantic pas de deux, rousing tarantella, and an ensemble number reminiscent of "West Side Story."

Creator, director and choreographer Matthew Bourne is in Washington with the Kennedy Center production and he's made the time to come into the studio. Welcome. It's nice to meet you.

Mr. MATTHEW BOURNE (Director and Choreographer): Hi, great to be here.

HANSEN: Now you've got this silent hero in Edward Scissorhands. Was it, doing it as a ballet or as dance theater, a no-brainer?

Mr. BOURNE: It seemed natural in a way. I think the fact that Edward is a silent character, almost - I think he has 164 words or something in the film, which is small for a title character - really appealed to me, because that's what I do. I tell stories without words, so that character, obviously, I was drawn to very much for that reason.

HANSEN: And his movements too. I mean, obviously he starts out with - he has to be rather elegant with his hand movements because he's got to keep those blades from nicking people.

Mr. BOURNE: Yes. That was a skill that had to be learned.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOURNE: During the rehearsal process.

HANSEN: When you heard the music, obviously Danny Elfman's soundtrack - and I'll tell you something Mark Morris the choreographer told me once a long time ago when I was asking about one of his pieces, mainly because dance is very difficult to talk about.

Mr. BOURNE: Sure.

HANSEN: It's like painting music. He said put on the music, and whatever I saw in my imagination, that's what it looks like. Did you sit with the "Edward Scissorhands" score and just listen to it for a while until figures began to dance in your own head?

Mr. BOURNE: Yeah. I think Mark Morris is right. I think as a choreographer that you are getting your ideas and your inspiration and your - that you've got to let your imagination kind of run riot while you're listening to the music, actually try and feel what's in it rather than be too - I mean, I'm not a trained musician, so I don't listen to music in that way. I listen for the emotion in the music and what it feels it's telling me.

So I think that's a really important aspect of working with music because it's almost like your script. It's studying your script to learn more about the play, and with us it's music. So I think it's terribly important, and I did feel in Danny Elfman's movie score there's something very deep in that music that touches you.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: There were a lot of parents with their teenagers and young 20-somethings in there, and maybe they have seen the film, but to a certain extent do you think this might draw them into the art of ballet?

Mr. BOURNE: That's one of the wonderful things that's happened with this and other pieces I've done actually, is that young people are drawn to it, and Edward particularly is a hero to teenagers. He seems to be. They identify with him. They get him straight away. They understand him, and they do know the movie, you know, still, even though it was probably from another, you know, generation in a way now. It seems quite recent to us, but for these young kids, you know, they still know this movie.

HANSEN: And yet are willing to suspend that disbelief a little bit and accept it as a theater piece and as a dance piece.

Mr. BOURNE: Well, I think, you know, kids in particular want something to be what they know, but also I find they're very open-minded as well. So if you give them something they like, they're also going to go with it. And there's a lot of people sitting there waiting - in my shows, at least, I think some of the people coming, waiting for people to start to sing, start to speak. They think, when are they ever going to speak?

And they're not going to speak. And they go with it. You know, I had a couple of kids behind me last night saying, oh, this is supposed to happen now, or Peg is supposed to find him, you know, and all these things they knew from the film. But it's - they went with it, and they stood at the end and...

HANSEN: Comparisons have been made in one of the reviews, actually, and it was one that I found myself making when I saw it. "West Side Story," to a certain extent, was about teenagers, and there's a lot of - you know, you've got the straights and kind of the Goths, and you know, there's - at some points, there's almost like the gym scene where they all get together, and of course there's that end scene, where it's the knife, and it's "Romeo and Juliet" and the whole thing.

Did "West Side Story," Jerome Robbins' choreography, did it inform you a little bit?

Mr. BOURNE: I wasn't specifically thinking about it in this piece, but it's a piece I love, I've loved since I was a kid. I think it informs probably a lot of things I've done. It has been mentioned about pieces I've done as well.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOURNE: So maybe deep down in there - but of course you admire that. It's the best musical ever. I don't think there's any doubt about that.

HANSEN: But some of the movements. I mean, you get the Shark gang and the Jet gang and...

Mr. BOURNE: Yeah, it's in there because we decided we were going to have the good kids and the bad kids, basically, in this town, which you probably get in any town. And yeah, you do get that sort of gang feel to it. And there's a scene at the end when Kim, the love - Edward's love interest, as it were, is left alone with - I don't want to give too much away, but sort of what's left of Edward at the end. And there's a scene very much like that in "West Side Story," I think at the end with Maria when she turns on the two gangs and kind of brings them together.

HANSEN: I mean, you're doing a basic love story here because that goes back to "Romeo and Juliet."

Mr. BOURNE: Sure. It's the classic love story. It comes into all classic love stories, I guess.

HANSEN: Were the blades the first challenge for you, as well as your dancers? You had to get over them before you could do anything else?

Mr. BOURNE: Well, the actual mechanics of them had to be worked out almost before the movement because they have to wear them for the whole evening, whereas I think Johnny Depp in the film had different ones that did different things in the movie, obviously.

HANSEN: And yours are like Swiss army knives.

Mr. BOURNE: Yeah, they have to do everything. But once we got those, I mean for me as a choreographer they're such a blessing. Everyone says, oh, those must be such a hindrance, you know, when you're trying to create something, but that's brilliant. I mean, to have something that restricts you is a godsend because it makes you do different things.

It makes you create something different, and the mixture of beauty and danger, which they kind of create, is something wonderful to watch, and the partnering of him with Kim, trying to find ways of lifting that don't use the hands, on the shoulders and different parts of the arm to lift, was again something to explore and something to get excited about.

HANSEN: Yeah. He also uses the blades as his form of expression.

Mr. BOURNE: Yes.

HANSEN: He uses - they're obstacles, they're extensions. They're instruments. I mean, they almost turn into - they turn into castanets at the beginning of the second act.

Mr. BOURNE: Yeah.

HANSEN: That also gives you another sort of vocabulary to work with, does it not?

Mr. BOURNE: Yeah. It's - as I said, it's a blessing because it's - you think, well, this has not been done before. You know, you can actually create something that looks unique.

HANSEN: Has Tim Burton seen it?

Mr. BOURNE: Yes. He came to the opening night in London and was absolutely wonderful and seemed to love it. And it would've been awful if he hadn't liked it, I have to say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: I'm sure. Did you start out as a dancer?

Mr. BOURNE: Yes, but very late. I mean, I was a late starter. I didn't start training even until I was 22.

HANSEN: You're kidding me.

Mr. BOURNE: Extremely late.

HANSEN: What sort of dance did you like, did you want to follow?

Mr. BOURNE: Well, from a very early age, I loved MGM musicals, from about the age of five onwards. That was my big thing. I would've loved to have been part of that world that created those films, one after another, that sort of rep company almost of people that made those films. I loved that.

HANSEN: Those MGM musicals served you well with this particular production, didn't it?

Mr. BOURNE: They do, yes. There is always a bit of Fred in my pieces somewhere.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Where does the show head after Washington?

Mr. BOURNE: The show's going to St. Louis the week after next and then to New York, at BAM for three weeks. It goes on to Minneapolis and Seattle and Denver.

HANSEN: My goodness.

Mr. BOURNE: So we've still got quite a way to go with that tour.

HANSEN: Matthew Bourne devised, directed and choreographed the new dance-theater piece "Edward Scissorhands." It continues its tour around the country after its run ends at the Kennedy Center in Washington tonight. Matthew Bourne, thanks for coming in.

Mr. BOURNE: My pleasure, thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: To hear more from Matthew Bourne and to listen to songs from the musical, visit npr.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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