Touring – reviewed at Curve Leicester
‘How do you quote a dance show?’ I asked my partner this morning. It may seem trivial, but this quandary perfectly exemplifies Matthew Bourne’s genius ability to tell stories both sweeping and intricate without the utterance of a single syllable. Following his most recent smash hits, The Red Shoes and Cinderella, Bourne has returned to the piece that made his name and irrevocably rocked the dance world. In a newly revised production of Swan Lake, Bourne and the New Adventures company demonstrate yet again why they are the most inventive, compassionate and exciting producers of dance around.
Retaining the essential themes of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake – duty, freedom and doomed love – Bourne has crafted something altogether more psychological, unnerving and heartbreaking with his tale of a Prince that longs to escape the bonds of royal responsibility, yearns for his frosty mother’s love, and is haunted by visions of gathering swans, majestic yet brutal.
Much has been made of the now iconic ‘male swans’ section in Act Two, and over the years it has lost none of its potency. The striking visuals of the muscular, brooding, graceful yet intimidating swans is heightened in this production’s revised aesthetic; eschewing the traditional ‘slicked back’ look of the original, Bourne and assistant director Pia Driver instead opt for a troupe of male dancers sporting identical ‘skinhead’ looks. This uniformity heightens the viciousness of the pack mentality seen in the finale, while also creating an enigmatic frisson of beauty and menace in the hyper-masculinity of the ensemble.
Yet to reduce Swan Lake to that one, albeit stunning scene, is to neglect the other joys that Bourne concocts in this veritable cornucopia of delights. From the comedic pitfalls of the Prince’s Girlfriend we are transported back to the type of slapstick coquettishness that made early silent films such a success, while the nightmarish chain of mother-masked and anaesthetised nurses that prey on the deranged Prince is a twisted allegorical exercise in quasi-oedipal castration. Played upon a larger-than-life story-book set designed by Lez Brotherston, the production is sumptuous, while avoiding the type of ostentation that could detach us from the action.
Standing out amidst an overall spectacular cast, Nicole Kabera exudes poise and elegance as the duty-bound but unfeeling Queen, and Katrina Lyndon has pitch-perfect comic timing as the hapless Girlfriend. New Adventures veteran, Dominic North expresses all the despair, abandonment and melancholy of the Prince, displaying a vulnerability which is deeply touching. The chemistry between North and Will Bozier’s inscrutable and alluring Swan/Stranger is electric; their pas de duex is a treat both tender and powerful, sensuous and romantic, while the intense eye contact between the two during the ball as they dance with their respective partners is compelling. Bozier and North’s unspoken connection ensures we are invested in the piece, so when tragedy befalls the royal household the effect is devastating.
Bourne’s Swan Lake is timeless, this production as fresh as ever, while a company that embodies a tireless amount verve, ingenuity, precision and emotion ensure this is a revival to be universally celebrated. I defy anyone to watch Swan Lake and not fall completely under its spell. In short, this is an enchanting show for fans of dance and novices alike that truly justifies and deserves the years of acclaim bestowed upon it.
Swan Lake plays at Curve Leicester until 6th October and continues to tour the UK. For further details please visit: https://new-adventures.net/swan-lakeThe ensemble of Swan Lake.
Photo credit: Johan Persson