I still remember the first time I saw Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake on TV in Australia and the very first time I saw the show live when I moved to London – it was a night I’ll never forget and even after all this time it’s still spectacular.
Back in 1995 when Swan Lake premiered it almost felt revolutionary; it was stunning, quirky and genius and it has stood the test of time and remains both inspired and thoroughly entertaining.
What I love about Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is the depth to the production. On a superficial level it’s simple, funny, theatrical. As a concept it’s genius; men in feathers, a prince who falls in love with a bare chested male swan, glistening in sweat with rippling muscles, only to end up suffering a breakdown that leads to his death.
Bourne’s brilliance lies in his ability to create a beguiling world full of bold characters, magnificent sets and sparkling costumes with his Swan Lake set to Tchaikovsky’s timeless score it takes us on a thrilling and emotional journey.
Bourne perfectly captures the swan in the movements of the feathered male flock as their arms expand and fold, their heads roll, they kick their legs out, they clap their hands into beak shapes; they are beautiful, strong and wild.
And it was with much anticipation that we saw Royal Ballet principal Matthew Ball as the Swan/Stranger; Bourne’s white and dark version of the classic white/black swan. And Matthew Ball didn’t disappoint with his performance elevating the evening. As the white swan Ball he is both vulnerable and strong, alluring and mystical as he and the Prince meet and fall in love.
As the Stranger, Ball’s confidence and acting came to the fore as he played the seducer, all dark and sexy and brutally heartless. It is hard to believe it was the same dancer in both roles, which is a testament to Ball’s artistry that has earned him the coveted title of principal dancer.
With dodgy nightclubs, paparazzi, a stern Queen, a misguided socialite, there were so many dancers and moments that wowed the audience; we laughed, we cheered, and we almost shed a tear when the Prince dies and is reunited with his Swan in the afterlife.
Bourne’s unique vision is now his trademark, he is renowned for twisting classic tales and simplifying dance in a way that makes it accessible and enjoyable for all. And just to prove the point, I went to Swan Lake with a friend who’s not a die hard dance fan but has been to quite a few different shows, and she said it was the best thing she’d ever seen.
Not to be missed!
Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake at Sadler’s Wells until 27 Jan, book tickets.
Reviewed on 12 December at Sadler’s Wells.