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Swan Lake review

Georgina Hague likes the content, hates the farce, but ends up moved and emotional at the Lowry

Written by . Published on March 5th 2010.

Swan Lake review

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake first showed to audiences 15 years ago and was a groundbreaking interpretation.

He wasn't afraid to turn a classic ballet on its head and create a modern day production to Tchaikovsky's score. Even in his wildest dreams did he probably imagine as people stormed out of his pioneering creation all that time ago that it would still be showing to sell out audiences across the world.

The ballet begins in the Prince’s (Dominic North) bedroom where he is woken from sleep by a disturbing nightmare about a swan. His mother comes to comfort him but it is clear from the choreography that the Queen (Nina Goldman) and the Prince’s relationship is far from loving.

The story, then progresses on to following the Prince’s daily duties with his mother, a task which leaves him cold. This is where the Girlfriend (Madelaine Brennan) is introduced, a Katie Price character, brash and careless of other people's opinions.

Goldman took the comedy aspects too far: it was embarrassing to watch. This was a weakness early on: comedy insertions that weren't necessary such as a corgi dog on wheels, a needless piece of slapstick presumably aimed at the Queen but failing as a device.

The choreography was mainly character ballet at this point, reminiscent of Ashton choreography not a pointe shoe in sight for the female roles apart from the parody of a ballet watched by the Prince, Queen, Girlfriend and Private Secretary. The female dancers’ technique is more musical theatre rather than classical ballet whereas you can see the pure classical talent in the male cast. Still you could see what Bourne was trying to achieve as he wanted to have the male dancers as the leads not the female cast.

Bourne’s parody of a traditional ballet where the Queen, Girlfriend, Prince and Secretary watch from a box is clever, comical and not overacted. This scene is where you see the relationship between the Queen and the Prince fracturing after the Girlfriend disgusts the Queen with her antics.

To portray the collapsing relationship Bourne has choreographed a violent pas de deux between the mother and son with the end of the piece resulting in the Queen rejecting her son. Here we get real emotion, a world away from the previous scenes.

But it's in Act Three when Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake starts to soar. The male swans are simply mesmerising with the audience like the Prince, becoming infatuated with their dance prowess. Bourne has extracted a different character from these swans, one which is aggressive, raw and powerful and so unlike the traditional waif-like and delicate Swan Lake female cygnets. The scene ends in euphoria as the Prince and lead swan embrace.

From this point to the end of the ballet the quality in both dancing and character portrayal is maintained. Jealousy, death and madness follow and we are swept along, mesmerised by the colour and vibrancy before us.

The final scene is set in the Prince’s bedroom as the swans re-appear in the disturbed young man's visions. The choreography is simply breathtaking. The other swans reject the lead swan and push him out of the group over his affection for the Prince. The Prince tries to save his love but fails and falls dead to be found by the Queen: above the bed the Prince and the Swan embrace, brought together by death. It's heart wrenching.

Once past the silly corgi on wheels this Swan Lake provided an inspirational evening out with dancers of the highest calibre and with excellent choreography. Moving, lyrical and physically stirring you can clearly see how Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake has become a modern day masterpiece.

Rating: 8/10


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