MATTHEW BOURNE’S SWAN LAKE: A FRESH TAKE ON A BELOVED CLASSIC
FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
In the imagery of classical dance, the swan is innocence personified. It is ethereal. It floats, it flutters, it wobbles and it dies — ever so delicately.
The swan does not have rippling biceps or chest hair. It does not have 10 pack abs. It does not thunder. It does not hiss.
Unless, of course, we’re in Matthew Bourne’s world. And what a mesmerizing place that is.
More than a decade after Mr. Bourne’s eye popping troupe of male swans first hit New York in his reimagined SWAN LAKE, winning three TONY AWARDS, the production returned Sunday for a nearly four week run at CITY CENTER.
And it should not be missed.
Call it theatre, dance or something perched happily in between, the return of MATTHEW BOURNE’S SWAN LAKE is a chance for those who didn’t catch it in 1998 to see what kind of life a fertile mind can breathe into a century old classic, exposing it to audiences who might never dream of entering an opera house.
It’s also a chance to dispel some myths about the show that may still exist even as it has become a classic in its own right, with runs in London’s West End and on Broadway, touring productions world wide and even a reference in the final scene of the movie BILLY ELLIOT, when Billy grows up to perform as — you guessed it — a Bourne swan.
This is not, for example, an all male production of SWAN LAKE, with men in tutus taking over female roles.
Women play women…and men play men.
It’s also not really about being gay.
Yes, the young prince falls in love with a male swan. But the themes here are much broader: It’s essentially about a search for connection and a yearning to belong somewhere…and that universal experience of wanting what we can not have.
All that yearning belongs to the Prince, played here with a thoroughly winning vulnerability by the boyish Dominic North (alternating in the role with Simon Williams).
It’s not hard to sympathize with this young man, who is confined to a life of royal drudgery — ship christenings, statue unveilings and the like — with a mother who is incapable of affection, unless it’s of a sexual nature.
As the curtain rises and the lush Tchaikovsky score begins (the music is taped in this production) the prince is sleeping uneasily, a stuffed toy swan in his arms. His mother enters his room to check on him: She refuses his outstretched arms.
Briefly, the subject of his dreams — or are they nightmares? — appears above his bed: a swan, majestic and menacing.
But these creatures will not fully appear until later in the show, when the prince, having been tossed out of a divey disco (you wouldn’t think it would be easy to stage a disco scene to Tchaikovsky, complete with an Elvis impersonator, but Matthew Bourne does it) and now in utter despair, heads to a park at the edge of a lake. He writes a suicide note and prepares to jump.
And then there they are…
Matthew Bourne’s barechested creatures, in their satyr like costumes by Lez Brotherston, emerge from the water with soaring leaps, muscular yet graceful, dangerous and alluring at the same time. Mr. Bourne has found ways for his birds to flap their arms and jerk their heads and necks in a manner that seems much more swanlike than their idealized ballet versions.
As their leader, Richard Winsor (alternating with Jonathan Ollivier) is not only a stellar dancer but charismatic, with a penetrating stare under those black lined eyes and the black strip coming down his forehead. Later, at the Royal Ball, he resembles an androgynous rock star in black leather pants and wielding a riding crop as The Stranger. It is the human incarnation of his swan, the manipulative Odile to his first act Odette. It’s easy to see why he makes both men and women swoon.
Like so many of the other performers, Richard Winsor is an actor as well as a dancer. There is no actual dialogue in this SWAN LAKE but there is certainly acting – and not merely the canned dance acting facial expressions one sees in so many story ballets.
Particularly fine on the comic side is Madelaine Brennan as the kooky, bubble headed lass who tries to lure the prince. And Nina Goldman is a chillingly effective Queen.
The costumes are first rate, too. Check out the Queen’s stunning red ball gown covered by a black cape. It’s worthy of a red carpet appearance.
Of course, things never turn out happily in SWAN LAKE for either prince or swan — not in the original and not certainly not here. Though Matthew Bourne has made many changes in the plot and has tweaked the production, he says, to this day, the end is still sadly the same: Only in death can a prince and the swan he loves finally be together.
MATTHEW BOURNE’S SWAN LAKE, a New Adventures production, runs through NOVEMBER 7.