Wednesday, November 3, 2010

'Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake' Still a Sensation

The males, above, in "Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake" are graceful creatures. Photo by Bill Cooper.


"Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake" scandalized ballet-goers with its unorthodox casting of swans and cygnets when it opened in London in 1995. It won a Tony in 1998.

It caused a sensation and it is still sensational.

"Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake" is at New York City Center through Sunday (7 Nov.), then will tour Italy from mid-November to mid-December.

Ballet does not have to be about anything. There's no need to tell a story when toned bodies are twirling through space, rising on toes, and planting high kicks. Some ballets insist on telling a story anyway, and frankly, I often have trouble getting it. Take “Swan Lake,” for instance. A boy – well actually a prince – is in love with a bird. OK, OK, a swan that was once a girl. The sorcerer, who has bewitched her, tricks the prince into declaring his love for a different bird … er ... swan, so he won't have to release the swan from her spell.

There is an apotheosis, with gorgeously swelling chords, in which prince and swan go over a cliff to be reunited in the hereafter as lovers.

More on this ballet when the "traditional" production comes to New York City Ballet next season, so remember this plot, please. "Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake" is set to Tchaikovsky's beautiful music, while NYCB's is to Prokofiev's equally stirring score. This reviewer's preference for the latter is based solely on greater familiarity; Tchaikovsky is a great favorite!

The swans are all male, and they are truly swan-like in their movements, just as in the more traditional version of the ballet. ( They enunciate their necks, trunks and legs, forming perfect visions of these beautiful birds. Somehow, however, this version of the ballet, with its contemporary attire, all-male swans and cygnets, makes so much more sense than the ballet standard. The swans are aggressive, forceful and elegant.

"Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake" is not a parody like the “Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo” (the Trocks, ( but a powerfully conceived and often very funny ballet. It is not men in drag, but men cast under a spell as swans. If ballerinas can be bewitched as swans, so can balleroux.

Our Prince (an appropriately mournful William Simon) dreams of his Swan before he encounters him on the Lake. He sleeps with a stuffed toy swan. He faces the paparazzi and adoring subjects. They go to a disco where The Queen (an aptly regal Nina Goldman) finds a handsome young man to accompany her. The Prince is stalked by a lovely young woman, the Girlfriend (a very appealing Madelaine Brennan), who accompanies the royals to the opera. At the opera, The Girlfriend, dressed in bright pink puffy hot pants, giggles loudly and fetchingly at the proceedings.

By the way, Lez Brotherston’s costumes are wonderfully elegant. The Queen is dressed in a glamorous A-line, silk cocktail coatdress. She picks up escorts along the way, while the Prince searches faithfully for the Swan of his dreams.

The Prince has a royal crest on his pajamas, military outfit and evening jacket. The crowds that await the royal pair behind velvet ropes, amid the flashing of cameras, sport hats and topcoats. At the nightclub where the Prince goes after his encounter with the Swan (a compelling Richard Winsor) at the Lake in the City Park, he meets a handsome man in leather trousers. He mistakes him for his Swan, but this man is a whip-wielding flirt. He picks up women at the nightclub. The Prince is distraught.

The apotheosis in "Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake" is darker and more disturbing than in other productions. This one owes more to Tennessee Williams' "Suddenly Last Summer" than to Petipa.

Visit for tickets and more information about "Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake."

Tamara Beck is President, Clean Lists Associates, Inc, an association management firm. And an avid fan of dance.

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