The role that’s his lifetime

November 14, 2013
Liam Mower played Billy Elliot on the musical’s opening night. Now, he’s Count Lilac in “Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty.” (Mikah Smillie)
Liam Mower played Billy Elliot on the musical’s opening night. Now, he’s Count Lilac in “Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty.” (Mikah Smillie)

A boy from a small town in northern England discovers he has a talent for dance, and goes on to beat out hundreds of other children for a scholarship to the Royal Ballet School in London.

This is both the plot of “Billy Elliot” (the 2000 movie and the later stage version) and the life story of Liam Mower, the boy who played Billy on the musical’s opening night, in 2005.

“The parallels are striking,” admits 21-year-old Mower, the son of a pipefitter from Hull, England. “But I never really felt like I was Billy.”

Recently, the parallels have become even more uncanny. Mower was cast in the touring version of Matthew Bourne’s 1995 hit “Swan Lake” — a ballet that the grown-up Billy Elliot stars in as well.

First, Mower will dance in a different production, “Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty,” at the Kennedy Center through Nov. 17.

“Depending on the night, I’m playing one of two fairy chaps: Count Lilac or another role called Tantrum,” Mower says.

If you don’t recall male fairies in the Sleeping Beauty story, you probably also don’t remember the vampires and satyrs, or the neon-lit nightclub where Princess Aurora ends up.

In his typical updating-the-classics mode, Bourne has Aurora meet her prince before falling into a 100-year sleep. Count Lilac bites Aurora’s lover so he can live long enough to be with the princess.

“Lilac leads the story through, quite a bit, and I love having that responsibility,” Mower says. “With all of Bourne’s ballets, there’s quite a bit of acting.”

Mower’s other role, Tantrum, lets him show off his dancing chops. “Tantrum gets all the big dance numbers,” Mower says. “It’s quite exhausting, really.”

A triple threat (actor, dancer and singer) since age 12, Mower has popped up in small roles on British TV shows. But since his 18-month stint as Billy Elliot, he’s focused almost exclusively on dancing, he says.

“There is such a limited time as to how long you can dance,” he says. “You can sing and act all your life.”

In January, Mower begins his run as the prince in “Swan Lake.” In Bourne’s retelling, the character falls in love with a male swan, who represents freedom from oppression.

“It’s a role I’ve wanted to play all my life,” he says. “It’s a dream come true.”

Billy Elliot would agree.

Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW; through Sun., $30-$120; 202-467-4600. (Foggy Bottom)  

Sadie Dingfelder is a features writer for the Washington Post Express.
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Holley Simmons · November 14, 2013