Breaking by the Swan and the Prince,

Breaking the
Mould

After being informed of the Local Authority’s interest in
exhibiting works that ‘break the mould’, I have performed research to find
practitioners that fit this category. Breaking the mould is a subjective concept,
but it does have the ability to be defined as ‘putting an end to a restrictive
pattern of events or behaviour by doing things in a markedly different way’ (Oxford Dictionaries, 2018). Using this Oxford Dictionaries definition
as a guide, I have found two practitioners who exceptionally break the mould in
their works are choreographer Matthew Bourne and playwright Sarah Kane, with both
practitioners breaking the mould in distinctly different styles.

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Matthew Bourne is a British choreographer that is known for
recontextualising pre-existing works in order to have them better suit the modern-day
audience. He has studied dance with various dance companies and in 1982 he
enrolled in the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, eventually being awarded a
BA in Dance Theatre in 1986. Bourne takes on a post-modern approach to
dance, where he uses recontextualisation, eclecticism and intertextuality to
challenge what people believe dance to be, which therefore allows him to break
the mould.

Swan Lake, one of Bourne’s most easily recognisable works,
offers a new perspective on masculinity that easily breaks the mould in terms
of what dance means. Rather than continue with the classical imagery of
slim young women who use graceful movements (as seen in Tchaikovsky’s original
ballet) Bourne gender-flips the swans; they become powerful men who are what have
been described as ‘the pinnacle of masculinity’ (New Adventures, 2017).
Bourne’s re-invention of classic ballet through post-modern interpretations,
such as swapping the gender of the swans of course presents itself as a
challenge to the audience. This challenge to the audience is furthered by the
homo-erotic pas de deux performed by the Swan and the Prince, in which neither
character is forced into a stereotypical feminine and masculine role that would
be expected from a traditional pas de deux; Bourne makes both men equally
powerful and reliant on each other. The character of Lead Swan remains a
traditional symbol for strength and grace and is not devalued through dancing
with another male – Bourne’s carefully choreographed imagery causes the
audience to forego any beliefs they might have held about two men dancing and
the gender-flipping of a previously female, fragile character; instead he
focuses on the strength and power a swan holds and uses that to his advantage.

Bourne breaks the mould by changing the audience’s expectations
when watching ballet; he does this through recontextualising beloved works such
as Swan Lake, and uses his own experience as a gay man with a passion for drama
and dance to pave over the audience’s perceptions and turn negative
connotations into positive ones, like the idea that a homosexual relationship
does not emasculate one member of the relationship whilst simultaneously giving
the other member complete dominance. Along with this change in belief regarding traditional
ballet, the mixing of different dance styles, for example when the Prince
enters the club and partakes in modern Morris dance, also help Bourne to break
the mould. His unique and first-hand understanding of this issue is what
sets him apart from other renowned choreographers; his own experience with
masculinity and sexuality is what allows him to break the mould within his own
work so clearly. Bourne even has stated previously that ‘presenting
the right role models to young people is so important’, which Bourne certainly
does through his unconventional, mould-breaking portrayal of gay men and male
relationships that are certainly shown ‘in a markedly different way’ (Oxford Dictionaries, 2017).

Swan Lake is not the only work by Bourne that challenges the
audience’s conceptions regarding masculinity and sexuality; Dorian Gray is
another prolific piece of dance that breaks the mould by challenging views and
people’s misconceptions, though it is much more detailed in its doing of this.
The Picture of Dorian Gray, written in the Victorian Era by Oscar Wilde has
face mass scrutiny in the past for its powerful allusions to homosexual
relationships that the titular character may have had with other men in the
novel.
Since the book was used as key evidence against Oscar Wilde when he was on
trial for homosexuality, it has been debunked as having any kind of display of
homo-erotic content by historians and old accounts by friends of Oscar Wilde.
Bourne, however, recontextualised the story and the history surrounding it to
bring it to the modern age. Dorian and Basil are the focus of the
narrative within the dance; they show a clear romantic connection that again
might challenge an audience’s perception of masculinity. Dorian’s
characterisation is key to this; the beginning of the performance, Dorian meets
Basil for the first time and dances a highly sexualised pas de deux with him,
the unsure and timid dynamics make it certain to the audience that he is not
used to attention. Both men are equally built and begin with the same
power dynamic, Jason Piper (who played Basil in the original cast) called the
dynamic between the two men ‘pure power… there’s a new level of intimacy. We
had to learn each other’s bodies.’ (Weigand, 2009).

It is clear in Basil and Dorian’s meeting that the
experience they are having whilst dancing together is fresh and new; Dorian
remains embarrassed and almost shy of the new experience throughout the whole
of the dance. Bourne treats the romance between the two men realistically;
Basil is interested and reserved whereas Dorian is shy and almost passive since
he is unaware as to what he should be doing. They move together as one
unit, caressing each other’s face as a sign of aesthetic attraction.
The intimate moment between the two men does not represent one as less or more
masculine; the two depend on each other through weight transferals and heavy
eye contact that is sustained as they cross into each other’s intimate space. Bourne
allows both men to be each other’s support rather than using one of the men as
a support for the other like you would find in more traditional pas de deux
pieces performed by a male dancer and female dancer. The fact Bourne can
illustrate, through his choreography, the complex relationship men share implies
that he is more than capable of breaking the mould; Bourne is able to tell a
convincing love story through gentle, soft, clear interactions whilst still
showcasing the raw power and strength both men dancing the parts have.

Matthew Bourne’s works will challenge the audience’s
perception of masculinity, the definition of dance and sexuality if he
showcased in the exhibit. His works show a clear breaking of the mould by his
direct, open approach to blurring low art and high art, as seen in both Dorian
Grey and Swan Lake specifically.

The other practitioner I believe perfectly showcases being
able to ‘break the mould’ is Sarah Kane, a late playwright who used many
post-modern techniques to impact the audience. Raised by Evangelical
Christian parents, Kane was a devout follower of her religion until her
mid-teens, when she first began to question her sexuality.
Naturally, this caused a lot of pressure on Kane, both as a follower of her
religion and as a homosexual. Ultimately, however, Kane rejected her
beliefs and instead moved to Bristol, where she studied Drama and consequently
was awarded an MA in Playwriting when she went on to do further studying at the
University of Birmingham. Despite her academic success, Kane suffered with
severe depression for most of her life until, at the age of 28, she committed
suicide. Whilst her sexuality plays a role in her breaking the mould, it
is also clear that the religious oppression she lived under also had quite a lot
to do with her works and how she tackled certain issues within her plays.

Kane’s first professionally recognised play, Blasted, broke
the mould and started a type of performance known as ‘in-yer-face’; it did initially
receive scathing reviews by critics, but is now renowned for ‘revealing the
true human condition’ (Seirz, 2017). This, along with the gruesomely dark
themes portrayed in the play, allows Kane to break the mould; she intended to
use shock as a tool to change the way an audience viewed theatre that was
available to the public eye. There are elements of Artaud’s theatre of
cruelty in Kane’s work, she shocks the audience through her work by putting
focus on rape, torture, cannibalism and gore; which led to a lot of backlash at
the start of her career. Kane’s unyielding approach towards taboo subject
matters is one of the ways she has been able to break the mould and change
people’s views. The character of Ian in Blasted is the
personification of humanity’s selfishness and desperation, whereas Cate becomes
the juxtaposition to this. They sustain one another through times that are
gruelling; both sacrificing something to survive. The audience would perhaps
learn about how people connect the sacrifices that are available for those
connections to occur. The everyday circumstance is changed in the play by
war.
An unspecified, spontaneous war that previously was ignored by both characters.
The characterisation of Ian and Cate breaks the mould by forcing sympathy on
what the audience would have previously thought so have been stereotypical
characters using dangerous times. The simulated sexual assault of both a man
and a woman on the stage directly tackles the social idea that audience may
have that men are the abusers whilst women are the abused.
Kane tells the audience that this line of thinking it incorrect in the most
blatant of ways, which certainly does break the mould in both of terms of what
is acceptable to be put on view for the public and in the sense of what makes
somebody a sympathetic, realistic character.

4.48 Psychosis’ writing style is also extremely unique
and breaks the mould in terms of what the public would be expecting.
She mixes in nonsensical repetition, ‘flash, flicker, burn, slash, flicker,
burn, flash’ (Kane, 1999 p. 36) with verses from the bible ‘Thou
shall not kill’ (Kane, 1999 p.15), and the random placement of numbers
with no words attached to them. This strange mixture is a post-modern
approach to confronting mental illness and religion, both themes being issues
that Kane has dealt with on a personal level. She breaks the mould by,
instead of focusing on just one type of mental illness or just one part of
religion, creating an open-ended script with room to be interpreted in anyway
the audience, actors and director can. She has no set rules in her universe; its
non-naturalistic style causes it to take on its own existence that is unique to
the individual. Even though her work demands attention and uses
shock value, Kane’s mould-breaking writing style for 4.48 psychosis leaves
the interpretations that the audience leaves with their own thoughts and
values, not just Kane’s values explicitly.

Kane has stated before that ‘there’s no help out there… for
the ones who don’t understand’ (De Vos,
2011). 4.48
Psychosis can be read as a guide to understanding; even though there no
structure to the play and it indeed does not openly give advice, it does allow
insight into how a person with a mental illness may view the world.
She gives an oppressed voice total control, which breaks the mould in that the
audience is given an inside view. Kane merges the world within 4.48
Psychosis with the world that the audience is familiar with; using strange
non-naturalistic monologues that seem to rant about ‘gassing the Jews’ (Kane, 1999 p. 42). This
unsettling use of the post-modern technique of intertextuality merges our world
with the fictional, harrowing world that the script creates; Kane forces the
audience to accept the vile imagery created by the text as part of daily life,
as part of reality. Her straight-forward use of this technique breaks
the mould because it causes the audience to embrace unpleasant imagery, which
is something the usual audience member would not expect to do.

Kane is an ideal practitioner to consider for the
exploration of works that break the mould. She demands that the
audience think about her work; the sheer openness of her works only furthers
how much her writing style and her tackling of societies issues break the mould
compares to other writer’s issues. Whilst Brecht uses distancing techniques to
make his audience think about issues within society, Kane uses the audience as
part of the story, enabling her work to be interpreted in any way.

Both practitioners have broken the mould in their chosen
fields and have clearly bought light of issues not usually bought to light in
the world of theatre and dance, especially in terms of classic entertainment.
Kane’s powerful and dark theatre will help the audience explore their social
beliefs and their judgements on mental health. Bourne’s works have the
power to help change the general audience’s expectations of what dance is and
how men in dance numbers are portrayed. They both offer unique concepts and use
different techniques to break the mould; which would make both practitioners
perfect candidates for the local authority’s exhibition of works that ‘break
the mould’.