It’s hard to fathom that when Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake first opened in 1995, it was not loved by everyone who saw it. The idea of a male troupe of swans and a young Prince being, quite literally, taken under their wing, proved too shocking for some who branded it “the gay Swan Lake” (which was something Bourne proudly celebrated and continues to do so). “It always struck me that there was a hidden message around the Prince’s reluctance to take a bride!” he says. This production returns to Sadlers Wells; London’s second oldest theatre and home of the finest contemporary dance productions for a limited season until 27th January 2019.
The structural composition of this ballet is something to marvel – appropriate nods to classical ballet techniques but visceral in its presentation. It wastes no time in packing a punch and delivers a “wow” within its first minute. Choreographed inhalations and hisses add an extra dynamic to this production and its sensational army of buff-torsoed swans who break the mould to show ballet does not always need to be silent. Pointe shoes and tutus are only seen in one scene set in an opera house, which in turn makes a pantomime of the very art they are using to execute it. It’s genius. Pure genius. Before we meet The Swan, we are taken to “The Swank” – a seedy club featuring burlesque style choreography, which still somehow emulated and foreshadowed the arrival of the swans in its own way with wonderful moments of comedy to boot.
I have watched Liam Mower grow from his Billy Elliott days and his portrayal of The Prince is extraordinary. Alongside Matthew Ball as The Swan/The Stranger, the two are the most enchanting duet in London. The pas-de-deux to mark their first meeting as The Swan saves The Prince from suicide was simply stunning and later, when The Prince and The Stranger finally meet, we are treated to this dystopian duet all over again. I could have watched those two alone all evening. Ball has truly made his mark in his debut season with New Adventures. A breath-taking performance.
The ensemble swans, comprised of fourteen immensely athletic men all robed in the iconic swan-feather trousers, were all incredible. The sheer volume of jumps required in this ballet is astonishing and not one foot was out of place all evening. This is not however an all-male production – Nicole Kabera presents an eerily calm version of The Queen. Stoic and proud but suitably caught off-guard when The Stranger makes his way into the palace. Katrina Lyndon is Elle-Woods-cum-Barbie as The Girlfriend and won an array of laughs from the audience with her wonderfully expressive face and physical comedy.
And as if all this wasn’t enough, in true Bourne fashion, we have a mechanical corgi too.
Two decades on from its premiere, Bourne’s Swan Lake is still ruffling feathers in all the right ways. It simply must be seen to be believed. Performance art perfection.
Reviewed by Harriet Langdown
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