It isn’t hyperbole to say that Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake changed the face of classical dance forever. Retaining Tchaikovsky’s original score, the rest of the ballet is turned completely on its head. For all its fantasy, in Bourne’s hands the story takes on a much more ‘human’ form. Instead of the Odette/Odile/Siegfried triangle it is now the tale of a melancholic, maternally rejected prince whose emotional demise we track through the course of this exquisitely conceived and delivered production. It is a dark and at times sinister tale of repression and sexual fantasy, punctuated throughout with clever humour. It is also, of course, that show with the gender swapped swans: instead of the prettily prancing pens, it’s a herd of predatory and powerful cobs sizzling with electricity and a large dose of menace. In ridding the story of its expected gender roles it has much more power.
Literally seen by millions around the world, it returns in 2019 with a fresh new (though not radically changed) look for the 21st Century at the hands of original designer Lez Brotherston, with a new lighting design from Paule Constable and with a few of the more tired background characters refreshed. This is a show that even without the changes can withstand multiple re-visits.
The stage bristles with life from curtain up and with intriguing choreographic ideas and mesmerising sequences of movement throughout, it is impossible not to be captivated. Dominic North’s Prince is beautifully danced and emotionally poignant and Max Westwell has a formidable presence, ensuring a searing and memorable performance as the Swan/Stranger.
Tchaikovsky’s 1875/6 score is re-ordered here and is sufficiently varied that a modern interpretation of the story can hang on it perfectly. It is fundamentally beautiful whichever order it is played in, and in whatever era its ballet is set.
Ballet snobs will hate it, but you would need to be emotionally and artistically devoid to fail to appreciate the visual spectacle and the sheer originality of storytelling and staging. Nearly a quarter of a century on it remains as utterly perfect as it ever was. Unmissable.
Runs until 9 March 2019 | Image: Contributed