Theatre review: Swan Lake

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake. Picture: Comp
Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake. Picture: Comp
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MATTHEW Bourne has an appreciation for storytelling and narrative that few other choreographers share.

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Festival Theatre

It’s not their fault per se; if you spend your life immersed in dance, constantly propelling yourself toward physical excellence, it’s easy to forget that your audience may not always share the same passion for the technical.

Bourne, on the other hand, comes at a production from the perspective that people want to be entertained first and wowed by the technicalities of the physical theatre second.

He’s also completely unafraid of finding his own truth in the subject matter and remodelling the story he’s working on to reflect that.

Swan Lake is a case in point, using Tchaikovsky’s now 139-year-old score, Bourne has taken the basic elements of the tale and rewoven them to speak to a modern audience.

Much was made of his shift from using the traditional female flock of swans to a male troupe during the show’s opening 1995 run, yet it is not so much this that is sensational as the prophetic nature of the main story.

Featuring a royal family loosely based on our own, all that needs to be done is to replace the swan with Camilla Parker-Bowles and you have a disturbingly accurate portrait of Prince Charles’s life during the mid-1990s. The use of male dancers to play the swans feels like a completely organic development in the context of the story. Not so much a sensational twist as a coming to terms by the prince, a cautious and conflicted Simon Williams, of his own identity. What really gives the production it’s wings, however, is the freedom of expression Bourne’s dancers have. There’s a playfulness to their parts that trained ballet dancers are not often afforded. Jonathan Ollivier’s beguiling Swan is sinuous, seductive and aggressive.

Beautifully paced, directed and lit, Swan Lake is a must-see for anyone with even a passing interest in contemporary theatre.

• Run ends Saturday