Swan Lake

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After reading Caroline’s post I thought I’d talk about the best thing I’ve seen on stage for ages! And it’s a ballet.
As a birthday treat to myself I bought tickets to see Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, a retelling of the classic ballet which has caused a lot of controversy for its use of male dancers to play the swans. The ballet is in its fourteenth year now, has been to Broadway and back, and still people balk at the idea of an ‘all-male cast’. Well to me that was half of the appeal – how often do you get to see half-naked men pulling shapes in feathered trousers? Plus in these times of recession I was able to get tickets for £10, a bargain whatever the outcome.
The story is vastly changed from the original, but Tchaikovsky’s stunning score remains virtually intact. A young prince is disillusioned with palace life and craves intimacy with his distant mother (did I hear someone say Oedipus?) who spends her time bed-hopping her way through the palace staff. Drunk and despairing the Prince tries to commit suicide but is stopped by the sight of a flock of swans in the park which recall his childhood nightmares. The lead swan first rejects the Prince but finally accepts him and they dance together leaving the Prince in a state of happiness when he finds himself alone back in the park.
His happiness is short-lived however as when the Prince returns to the palace and meets the black-clad Stranger (alter-ego of his beloved Swan) and is instantly attracted to him. Unfortunately for him the Stranger has his eye on every woman in the room, including the Queen, leading to tragic consequences for the Prince.
My only reservation before we went was that this is not a traditional ballet with the tutus, pirouettes and arabesques. In fact the word ‘ballet’ is a pretty loose definition of this production of Swan Lake: there is only one scene of classical ballet and even that is parodied. The majority of the dance is contemporary, borrowing from forms such as disco, jazz and tango, and amazingly fits hand in glove with the classical score.
For me though the best thing about this performance above the flawless execution, amazing sets and costumes is the emotional impact of Matthew Bourne’s choreography. I have never seen a ballet that was alternately so genuinely funny and truly heartbreaking. It’s an intelligent and challenging production if you know anything about its influences but it also takes on controversial subjects that are universally understood from sex to the Royal Family (there’s even a mechanical corgi!). You don’t have to know anything about ballet to enjoy it. I may have seen it 14 years late but the production has adapted with the times and it’s truly excellent. The rest of the audience seemed to agree: there was a standing ovation and we were applauding and cheering for a good ten minutes. I don’t think I’ll ever see ballet in the same way again.
Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is at Sadler’s Wells, London until 24th Jan 2010 and then goes on tour around the country.http://www.swanlaketour.com/

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