Wales Millenium Centre, Cardiff Bay.
Tue 9 Mar
The shock of Matthew Bourne’s use of male swans in Swan Lake may have worn off years ago, but his production has lost none of its power and beauty. Not a ballet as such, but rather a piece of contemporary dance-theatre, Bourne’s interpretation of Swan Lake incorporates a range of dance styles, and contains enough of a story to retain its broad appeal.
To those unfamiliar with this interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s seminal ballet, don’t go in expecting tutus and pointe shoes. This is a sexually-charged take on the classic, complete with male swans, a voracious Queen (Nina Goldman), a flamboyant, amorous Girlfriend (Maddy Brennan) and a confused Prince (Sam Archer).
What’s immediately striking about Bourne’s Swan Lake is that there’s so much happening onstage at any given moment. In a play-within-a-play, we are treated to a spoof ballet scene that satirises the conventions of the art – a neat prelude to the entrance of Bourne’s male swans. At the same time, a theatre box onstage sees the brazen Girlfriend hooting and jeering at every available opportunity. Here Bourne is lampooning his critics and his audience at the same time – a bold thing to do, but it’s carried out in such good humour you barely notice.
Characterisation is vivid, although the caricatures of the icy Queen and The Girlfriend belie the complexity and mystery of The Prince and The Swan. The swans, however, are the most interesting characters, as they dip and swoop across the stage, bristling with aggression and unmistakeable eroticism. It’s this intersection of male aggression and sexuality that remains the biggest asset of the production, which is explored through scenes of eroticism that threaten to spill into violence, and vice versa. The occasional percussion supplied by the dancers, who slap, huff and stomp, only raises the temperature, building to a strange, triumphant climax that is as thrilling as it is tragic.