Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Choreographer: Matthew Bourne
Reviewer: Geoff Mills
Matthew Bourne’s transgressive, homoerotic reinterpretation of Swan Lake has been winning over audiences for more than twenty years. This latest incarnation will continue the tradition. Dominic North’s unhappy prince is reticent, faltering, a delicate boy struggling to contend with the stiff realities of royal life. His mother (Nicole Kabera) is a model of granite hauteur: if she were ever to smile her face would crack.
There are moments of great visual wit, too. Especially amusing is a surprisingly lifelike, trundling corgi. And Katrina Lyndon as the prince’s dipsy girlfriend is never less than endearing. Her comical unsuitability to palace life (a mobile phone that goes off during a performance, uncouth cackles of laughter, a ridiculously small puff-ball skirt), and an unceasing tendency to ruffle the feathers of her serene superiors, teasingly invites her to make comparisons with the modern royal family.
But the crown must surely be awarded to Will Bozier’s Swan – a fluid but muscular presence, the alpha male among his retinue of stamping, hissing, jealous birds. They are kept precariously in order by the threat of violence. The performance is cruel, carnal, commanding. His human double – the stranger at court – is dangerous, rapacious, a ruthless sexual predator. Simultaneously inviting and spurning his would-be lover’s advances, the prince is eventually whipped up into a murderous frenzy. Shots are fired and the prince’s world collapses around him.
Matthew Bourne’s production skitters across ages and continents: it retains many classic elements but there is more than a hint of the cartoonish and the contemporary. Lez Brotherston and Paule Constable’s design is sparse but imperious, whether we are peeking into the prince’s palace, or watching him consider self-destruction at the edge of a glittering lake.
Cast out and incarcerated, the heart-broken prince is eventually attended to by the repentant swan. The dénouement is startling, violent, affecting. Make no mistake, there is nothing dainty about this production: these swans are savage, brutal, bestial.
Matthew Bourne is known for bringing quality ballet to a wider demographic and for those coming to ballet for the first time this production is a soaring introduction. Oh yes, and the purists will attend in swathes, too.
Runs Until 16 February 2019 | Image: Contributed