The first part of Will Bozier’s story is a common one for boys in dance: He began taking after-school dance classes with his sister at a young age, then moved on to the Tring Park School for the Performing Arts in Hertfordshire, England after his talent was recognized by a teacher.
What’s not so common? That Bozier wasn’t fantasizing about playing princes or cavaliers, but instead dreaming of joining Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, and of playing the titular Swan in his revolutionary Swan Lake.
Now, Bozier is living out his childhood dream on an international tour of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, which plays at New York City Center from January 30 to February 9. He alternates in the role with Matthew Ball and Max Westwell.
“This has always been my dream role,” Bozier says. “The first thing I ever saw of Matt’s was Swan Lake; I watched Adam Cooper do the original Swan and it’s a big reason why I wanted to join this company.”
Cooper’s performance resonated with Bozier in ways that ring particularly true today, as the bullying boys face in dance is finally getting the public attention it deserves: “It was so amazing to see men be so powerful and strong onstage,” he says. “It really hit me that men can dance too.”
Though Bozier joined New Adventures in 2014, after stints in the West End production of Wicked and the international tour of Mamma Mia!, it wasn’t until the current tour that he was cast in Swan Lake (though he’d been dropping not-so-subtle hints to Bourne for several years).
In addition to dancing The Swan four nights a week, Bozier also serves as Swan Lake’s dance captain, watching the show once a week to ensure the choreography stays tight. “It reminds you what an amazing show you’re part of,” Bozier says of his double duty. “It gives you the impetus to strive to be better.”
We talked to Bozier about what it takes to perform The Swan, and why Bourne’s Swan Lake is still delighting audiences across the globe.
Tell me about the character of The Swan.
The Swan represents everything The Prince can’t be. The Prince has to be everything he’s told to be; The Swan can be free and wild. That’s what I try to put across to the audience.
What kind of preparation did you do for this role? Have you drawn any inspiration from more traditional productions of Swan Lake?
Over the years I’ve watched many different variations of Swan Lake, but the traditional one is very different. I watched a lot of Adam Cooper and Jonathan Ollivier doing The Swan. We do watch stuff on YouTube of actual swans, seeing how they are and how they react with each other. Matt gets us to listen to the music a lot too.
What is your pre-show routine?
I do my beak myself because it helps me get into character. I’m not very good at makeup, so it took me a few months to get it perfect, but now I don’t even think about it.
I do my own warm-up, core exercises, stretch, and ballet barre. When it gets to a certain part of the show before I do my first main entrance, it’s that iconic Swan Lake music. I stand there backstage and listen to it and that gets me pumped.
How do you keep the show fresh for audiences who have seen it many times?
Every Swan who does it is their own dancer. Matt encourages us to be our own Swan, so I do it quite differently to how Max (Westwell, who shares the role) does it, but it’s still the same show.
And what about for yourself?
A big thing is the music; it’s so beautiful that it just helps you through. We have a fantastic cast and crew; they’ll give you a pat on the back when you come offstage and you’re tired. And this has been my boyhood dream since I was young, so to get a chance to do it is enough for me.
This production has been around for 25 years. What do you think makes it feel so relevant to audiences today?
I think a lot of people can relate to the show. Sometimes people are lost in who they are and what they want and I feel like people relate to that in The Prince. Matt’s work is quite comical so I think it’s nice for people to see a ballet that has got fun bits and that you can laugh at, and get lost in the swan movement. When you see 14 men onstage doing the same thing, it is quite powerful.
You’ve toured this production all over the world. Have audience reactions varied in different cities?
Everywhere we go, everyone loves the show. But it’s very different everywhere. Sometimes people laugh more at certain bits than others. My role is quite serious, so I don’t get a lot of laughs. At the end the audience erupts every night, and it really makes us feel good about what we do.
Everyone has their interpretations; we get a lot of questions about why do you do this, or why The Prince does that. It’s one of those shows that’s open to how you interpret it. A couple of people have said things and I’m like, that’s never crossed my mind!
What are you looking forward to about performing in New York?
I love the shows; I’m going to see Moulin Rouge!. I love the food in New York. And City Center is amazing—it’s such a beautiful venue and the audiences are phenomenal.
Lauren Wingenroth is a New York City-based writer and an associate editor at Dance Magazine.