Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Choreographer/Director: Matthew Bourne
Reviewer: John Roberts
Nearly 25 years ago, Matthew Bourne premiered his version ofSwan Lake, a production that not only found him struggling to bring together a creative team to agree to work on his “male” version of the classic ballet, but also take his then company Adventures in Motion Pictures from just a company of six to a company of over 20. Needless to say, his gamble more than paid off and a West End residency alongside a Broadway stint and many International tours and the production is still going from strength to strength, albeit with the odd change and tweak here and there.
In this current UK Tour, there are some major changes across the choreography, set design and even a new lighting design, having seen the production several times over the years. It’s these new elements, which while keeping the show true to the original production, ensures that its vibrancy and poeticism is as fresh as the very first performance. The production is a visual feast, not only is Bourne’s choreography full of strength and with his all-male swan ensemble an undoubted masculinity but at times it’s also sensual and soft, playful and comedic, which help to bring many new layers of understanding to the ballet and indeed many new generations to appreciate dance and the classical repertoire in a totally accessible way.
Les Brotherstone’s set design is imposing and its monochromatic base colours bring the production an overbearing sense of oppression – a set designer’s nod to the feelings of the prince perhaps? Brotherstone also allows moments of rich colour to infiltrate the monochrome with striking results. Paule Constable’s new lighting design it atmospheric and cuts the stage like a sculptor cuts marble – with precision, depth and clarity. Arguably now that the production and indeed Bourne’s company is of such a size, it would be perfect to hear Tchaikovsky’s beautiful music played by a live orchestra and really brings a sense of occasion to the performance, of course, one is aware of the cost implications of that and maybe in a few years’ time we may see that happen.
As Bourne’s more recent go-to leading man, Liam Mower cuts a fine prince, his moves are sharp and tight and his emotions just as wrought as some of the moves given to him to dance, he is equally matched by Max Westwell’s seductive and enigmatic swan, the chemistry between these two leading men is electrifying and could be tangibly felt throughout the Empire’s vast auditorium. Strong support is given from Nicole Kabera as the tightly poised queen and Ashely-Jordan Packer’s Private Secretary. Freya Field’s performance as the ditzy blonde girlfriend almost threatens to steal the show, and brings a much-needed sense of comedy to the brooding ballet.
Arguably, some of the scenes could be shortened within the ballet, there are times when certain scenes feel a little repetitive and that the narrative of the ballet stops being engaging especially with the need to drive the narrative of the dance forward, however the dedication, commitment and energy of the massive ensemble ensures that is balanced out as best as possible.
It may be nearly 25 years old but Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is still as fresh and vibrant as it always has been, the core relationships feel infinitely more real and the power battles between them even more dangerous. This is a Swan Lakethat will go down in history as one of the most exciting productions of this classic ballet and one hopes will continue to tour and enthral audiences for many more years to come.
Runs until 13 April 2019 then continues on Tour | Image: Johan Persson