Review: Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake

By Johanna Hadley

Matthew Bourne's SWAN LAKE. 15-12-2009

 An all-male game of swans, hissing and leaping – sometimes almost violently – across the stage, exploring themes of unrequited love, sexuality, and monarchy, is about as far away from the original Marius Petipa choreography for Swan Lake as it can be. This edgy and unconventional adaptation leaves scope for individual interpretation, and raises several questions – what is the appeal of this reworking of Swan Lake, and how has it become to be just as well accepted as the original, classic version?

Swan Lake, at 136-years-old, is still an indispensable core piece of ballet repertoire, with its famous Dance of the Cygnets and thirty-two fouettes, and forms the backbone of all classical ballet companies. It’s also viewed as the ultimate role for any principal ballet dancer, challenging their ability to effortlessly transform between the beautiful, delicate Odette, and the dark, flirtatious Odile. This pristine, white tutu-clad ballet of fragile swans is rejected in exchange for fifteen strong, bare-chested male dancers.

Jonathan Ollivier played the awe-inspiring Swan, whose effortless strength and agility wowed the audience all evening. He beautifully juxtaposed this with his performance of the Stranger too, displaying nuances of Odile. The way in which he subtly inflected elements of his earlier role as the Swan whilst portraying the Stranger was truly remarkable. His dancing both contrasted and complimented that of The Prince (Simon Williams), whose innocence and confusion made for a heart-wrenching performance. It was almost as though one was watching the delicate Odette dancing with the strong Prince Siegfried, but in a parallel dimension, where the roles and genders have been completely reversed.

Sam Archer as The Prince Jonathan Ollivier as The Swan in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake. Photo by Hugo Glendinning [1]

As for fans of the original Petipa Swan Lake, my advice would be that this show should be appreciated for its own merits, and to try not to compare it scene-for-scene with the original. Be open to the new ideas and concepts and you will be pleasantly surprised – I certainly was.

This show has now been running for eighteen years, with numerous awards won, not to mention many tours, Broadway and West End runs. Maybe the appeal of this version was that it defied stereotypes, and broke boundaries? Or maybe it was that it touched on subjects which the original Swan Lake would never have dared to? Perhaps it’s just superbly choreographed by one of the UK’s leading dance visionaries. Whatever it’s appeal, I have never once seen a theatre as full as it was for last night’s performance of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake at The Lowry.

And the standing ovation which the performance received last night was well and truly deserved for all involved in a magnificent production.

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is at The Lowry until Sat 16 November. 
Tickets are now sold out call the box office on 0843 208 6000 for returns, restricted view and standing tickets

Matthew Bourne's SWAN LAKE. 15-12-2009


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