Matthew Bourne’s infamous reworking of the classical ballet is now in its 15th year; attracting continuous worldwide acclaim, sold out houses and standing ovations. Sometimes such a reception can lead to a somewhat underwhelming theatrical experience, especially after so many years in a company’s repertoire; however, this production seems to go from strength to strength, gathering more fans, more acclaim, and most importantly more emotional punch.
The switch from a delicate female chorus to a strong, masculine ensemble is what this adaptation has become most famous for. However, there are many misconceptions as to what Bourne has created with the troupe. It is quite often that you may hear the ensemble referred to as ‘homo-erotic’, or a heavy emphasis placed upon some of the underlying gay themes.
However, far away from what one may picture from an all-male cast, is the fierce and domineering cast of men which bound across the stage with threatening stance, delivery, and power. So convincing is Bourne’s interpretation of the ensemble that it really becomes almost impossible to think of how this story could be told with a female set of swans, due to the complete interregnal power that his invented chorus holds upon the narrative and the central characters.
The entrancing energy of the choreography is mesmerizing not only in its physical storytelling but simply in its spectacle, making it impossible to switch off from the action on stage, or the story being told.
The fact that Tchaikovsky’s score remains mostly intact and still steers the narrative of the production does mean that we are consistently reminded of the traditional origins of the piece and, in tern, not asked to abandon all recollection of its routes. However, what Bourne does do with the score is cleverly take some of the most famous crescendos and twist the action that accompanies it on its head; be it something like an old lady throwing crumbs to the swans in the lake during the pinnacle of the most widely recognized tune.
Lez Brotherston’s gargantuan designs match the epic proportions of the music, aided by the wonderful palate of light, dark, and shadows by lighting designer Rick Fisher. The combination of the two helps to elevate the dancers into the dream-like, seamless, sequences which have been magically created.
Swan Lake certainly proves itself to be not only the crowning jewel in New Adventures repertoire, but also one of Britain’s proudest exports in commercial modern dance.
- Ben Wooldridge