Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake: still breathtaking
- Kelly Apter
- 23 October 2018
23 years after its debut, the designs have evolved but the performance is just as powerful
It's been 23 years since Matthew Bourne first unveiled his take on the most famous ballet of all time. In the intervening years, he's sprinkled his choreographic magic onto a host of other popular works – Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, to name but a few – and yet Bourne's name remains inextricably linked with Swan Lake. So when the posters and programme for this 2018 revival proclaim, 'The Legend Returns', it's hard to disagree.
For this show really is legendary. Even in today's increasingly liberal and tolerant society, a show that ostensibly puts a love story between two men centre stage, and receives a standing ovation from over 2,000 people, has to be applauded in more ways than one.
Groundbreaking aside, Bourne really does know how to cater for all-comers. For lovers of the original Ivanov / Petipa 'big white' classic, enough remains to sweep you away – Tchaikovsky's instantly recognisable and tear-jerkingly emotive score, original choreography cleverly interwoven throughout the lakeside scenes. While those looking for a more mainstream night out can bask in two hours of well-dressed and witty entertainment.
As we journey from palace to ballroom, nightclub to park, Bourne keeps his characters real and three-dimensional. When we see Dominic North as the prince dragged along to yet another opening by Nicole Kabera, freezing the stage as his cold-as-ice mother, we feel his loneliness. When his wanna-be proletariat girlfriend (a hilarious turn from Katrina Lyndon) finds herself in the royal box at the theatre, we delight in her humanity in the face of poker-faced propriety. And when the prince falls in love with the Swan (Will Bozier athletic and tender in equal measure) only to have his heart broken, we feel his pain in waves.
Slick moves and emotional resonance are only half the joy here, however. Lez Brotherston's newly renovated set gives Swan Lake the grandeur it deserves, while placing it in a recognisable world of park benches and late-night haunts. Both Bourne's choreography and Brotherston's designs may have evolved since the show exploded onto the dance scene in 1995, but one thing has never changed – the phenomenal strength and power of an entirely male corps de ballet of swans. Just breathtaking.
Reviewed at Edinburgh Festival Theatre