Incredibly, it’s 15 years since Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake first hit the stage for Sadler’s Wells and changed the way audiences look at ballet.
In his programme notes, Bourne reveals he’s revisited the production – and indeed he was in the Curve audience himself for this revamped version, launching yet another tour of the magical, masculine-skewed modern classic.
He should have been delighted. The piece, which is majestic, magnificent, monolithic in scale, still has the power to leave one’s jaw gaping at the sheer audacity of its imagination and technical skill. With iconic set and costume designs from collaborator Lez Brotherston, Bourne uses every dramatic trick at his disposal to tell the emotionally wrenching story of the Prince and his life-changing encounter with a swan.
This is really a drama without words, set to the climactic and lush music of Tchaikovsky. The only real quibble is the lack of a credit for the musicians, whose recorded score is uncredited but utterly central to the success of the production.
That said, the focus is entirely on what happens on stage, and here Bourne is wonderfully served by an extraordinary corps of performers. I’d say dancers, except that there is plenty of acting talent on show as well, not just among the principals but throughout the company, including the now famous male swans.
Dancing the Prince, Simon Williams is superb: his fluent, elegant movement is matched by his power to evoke real sympathy and the tragic finale is as moving as anything you’ll see on a stage.
Opposite him, Jonathan Ollivier is a commanding and imperious swan, doubling as the mysterious stranger at the palace ball and convincing in both roles.
Nina Goldman makes an icily distant Queen, while Maddy Bennan provides welcome comic relief as the Prince’s girlfriend, out of her social depth in royal circles.
It’s unconventional, arresting and visually stunning, and it comes highly recommended, even after all these years.
- Michael Davies