Diane Parkes meets a principal dancer who seems to have been destined to follow in his mother’s steps.
As a youngster it looked possible that Richard Winsor would follow in the footsteps of his mother who ran a dance school.
But by the time he had reached the age of 12, Richard had decided dance was not for him. So how do we explain the fact that he is in Birmingham next week performing the lead role in Matthew Bourne’s dance production Swan Lake?
“My mum had a dance school in Nottingham that did things like ballet, tap and jazz,” recalls Matthew.
“I first tried it when I was about four or five but then I was rebellious at about 12 or 13 and wanted to do sports instead.
“But then I was doing rugby and other sports and I realised how much I loved the adrenaline of performance. I had always liked the shows at the end of the year but not the rest of it.”
And so at the age of 16 he applied to dance colleges and gained a place at the prestigious Central School of Ballet. It was while he was a student there that he watched a couple of productions by the choreographer Matthew Bourne. And he was instantly hooked.
“Before I graduated I had seen Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake and loved it because it was just perfect in style. It is so beautiful and has such strong and powerful roles that it is a really powerful piece of theatre.”
Little did he suspect that he would one day take the lead swan in the show, but attending one of the classes at Matthew’s company New Adventures opened a surprising window of opportunity.
“I was still at college when I went to one of the classes and, at the end, Matthew came up to me and said there were a couple of places free for the company’s US tour of The Car Man and would I be interested. A week later I was offered a part.”
Richard toured the US and Japan with the show, inspired by Bizet’s opera Carmen, and was then firmly on board with New Adventures.
“When I came back in 2002 Matthew was creating Play Without Words. At the time it was an experimental work for the National Theatre in London although it went on to tour.
“Being so young at the time, I was 19, and being involved with a new work alongside all these dancers who had been working in the profession so much longer was a real experience.”
And it was a collaboration which was to continue as Matthew created the lead character in his next work Edward Scissorhands, based on the hit Hollywood film. And his latest work Dorian Gray, based on the Oscar Wilde’s novel, also saw Richard creating the lead role.
Now aged 28, Richard is playing the lead in the dance which originally attracted him to the company, Matthew’s reworking of the classic Tchaikovsky ballet Swan Lake. And he feels Matthew’s work is a good fit with his own ideas of theatre and dance.
“Matthew has a real interest in story-telling and that is what really appeals to me,” he says. “It is telling a narrative story with strong characters. Swan Lake is a really powerful show which can still entertain even after 15 or 20 years.”
While he is more than happy to be in Matthew’s most famous production, Richard admits that it is new work which really inspires him.
“I always like to do new things,” he says. “Quite early on with Play Without Words I got a taste for it. To make a role your own and build that character through your movement and narrative is something very special.
“I would have always wanted to do something like Dorian Gray where the lead role was so complex and the story had such depth to it.
“With Swan Lake it is more difficult to make the role your own. This is the work which really catapulted Matthew into the stratosphere and there needs to be a recurrent style with the role. You need to really keep that the same.”
And Richard is also spreading his wings beyond dance, having played the Monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in Northampton and taking the lead role of Tomas in a new film Street Dance 3D.
“The film was a really good experience for me as it is like a Hollywood dance movie but was made in the UK,” he says. “It was shot all round London during August of last year. I am really looking forward to its release in May.
“I really like doing new things as long as the quality is there. One of the good things with working with Matthew is that there are breaks when you can do other things. I love dance but I also like to do more dramatic acting roles and I would like to do more films.”
The build up to the release of Street Dance 3D will take Richard out of Swan Lake for a while.
“I am doing the UK tour and then a couple of weeks in Athens in April but I will then leave the show to do the promotion work for the film,” he says.
“After that I would like to continue working with Matthew but you have to be aware that as a dancer you get older and it can become more difficult to take on some of the roles. Not that I am anywhere near that yet.”
His mum Louella remains one of Richard’s biggest fans – but also one of his most vocal critics.
“She comes to see each of the shows, I think she is very proud of me,” Richard says. “She has always been very supportive but isn’t pushy. But she still gives me the odd critical comment, because she knows.”
* Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, Birmingham Hippodrome, Feb 8-13, tickets: 0844 338 5000, www.birminghamhippodrome.com