Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake – the legend returns
***** (5 stars)
A Swan Lake poster from 2000 screams “SEE IT NOW OR LIVE TO REGRET IT”: these performances deserve the same accolade. Twenty-three years after the first, ground-breaking production of Matthew Bourne’s “all male” Swan Lake was staged the drama is still as intense, and the power of the dance just as breath-taking.
In the original story, a Prince falls in love with a girl, Odette, who has been turned by a magician into a swan: the spell will only be broken if she can find true love. The Prince wants to save her but is tricked by the magician into declaring his love to Odile, a black-clad lookalike temptress who appears at the palace ball. Odette, despairing, drowns herself in the lake: the Prince, realising his error too late, flings himself into the lake after her – and the couple are united in death. Matthew Bourne’s all-male flock of swans adds many subtle layers to the original story, and woke up the world of 1995 to alternatives to heteronormality.
You can see the revolution this Swan Lake created in the dance world when you watch the ballet performed for the royal party in act 2. Prancing, posturing, fluttering women hop and skip about, their arms flailing like windmills as they display overacting worthy of an early one-reel silent movie: everything that ballet should never be but so often was brought gales of laughter from the audience. Compare this to the swans’ dancing in acts 3 and 4! Strength, aggression, power, economy of gesture, beauty and dynamism – breathtaking agility and masterly observation of swan behaviour, using the audible inbreath and explosive outbreath, the stamping of feet and the clapping of ‘wings’ – display everything that ballet can and should be.
But it’s not all power and machismo. There is so much tenderness in the story as we watch The Prince, longing to be loved, find his true match in The Swan; so much humour in the impeccably precise and complex choreography of the opening scenes and the outrageously naïve behaviour of the would-be Girlfriend; such clear depiction of power-play and manipulation at the Royal Ball and such heart-rending tragedy in the final act.
No wonder this ballet has never been off-stage since its inception – somewhere in the world it is being performed every night, or nearly every night: and the standing ovation with which it was greeted tonight will be repeated wherever it is danced, with its powerful message – so revolutionary when the ballet first appeared – that LOVE is what matters, no matter between whom, and that without love we die.
The whole ballet is full of memorable characters, a constant succession of little cameos as every character displays his or her individual self, however short their role, and such magnificent ensemble dancing – especially from the staggeringly impressive swans, but also in the scenes in the palace, in the Swank club, and the ballroom scene. Only humans behave this way, deliberately hurting each other for the sake of it, humiliating those who don’t conform to the socially acceptable norm – the swans have no concept of this at all.
Will Bozier and Dominic North were outstanding as the Swan/ the Stranger and the Prince. Nicole Kabera chilled us as the queen – unable to touch her son even when she saw his distress but with an eye to handsome young footmen and, disastrously, the Stranger: Katrina Lyndon was a brilliantly dumb blonde trying to impress and meet the Prince and oblivious to the rules of Polite Behaviour. The whole cast threw their heart and soul into their performances, but special mention must be made of the quartet of cygnets whose juvenile antics were greatly appreciated by the audience.
And then of course there’s Tchaikovsky’s music – emotional outpourings of love and longing, filled with fiery drama and heart-rending pathos. It’s a pity we couldn’t have had live musicians – but still the music wove its magic as the tragedy made its way to its tragic conclusion and hope-filled final tableau, which was greeted with a standing ovation and tumultuous applause.
Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake – the legend returns, Festival Theatre, Run ends Saturday 20th October, For Tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/mbswanlake
The Production will also visit The Lowry Salford 29 Nov – 1 Dec 2018 and Sadler’s Wells London, 4 Dec 2018 – 27 Jan 2019.