Interview: Jonathan Ollivier, lead dancer in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake
Male dancers 'can portray a more aggressive physicality & power, which is exactly how it should be'
It’s almost 20 years since Matthew Bourne changed the landscape of British modern dance. When Swan Lake opened at London’s Sadler’s Wells theatre in 1995, Bourne could scarcely have imagined how popular it would be – and remain.
Once again touring the UK, the multi award-winning show never fails to generate ticket sales. Currently playing the lead swan (the role made famous by Adam Cooper in the closing moments of Billy Elliot), New Adventures dancer Jonathan Ollivier thinks he knows why. ‘Quite a lot of people still haven’t seen it, and there’s a real buzz here because all the swans are men,’ he says. ‘And that works really well, because we can portray a more aggressive physicality and power – and that’s exactly how it should be, not all pretty.’
Anyone who has ever ventured near a cygnet will know what Ollivier is referring to. But giving the swans an appropriate level of strength doesn’t come easily. ‘It’s a big role to take on,’ he says. ‘Even in the classical version, the white and black swans are sometimes played by two different women, so to do all of it is a challenge. It can be quite tough on the body and takes a lot of stamina – but that is what’s great about it.’
There aren’t many iconic roles in male modern dance, but this is certainly one of them. For Ollivier, the opportunity to portray the brute force and heartbreaking gentleness of Bourne’s choreography is a career highlight. ‘It’s an honour to dance such a massive role, and I know a lot of dancers would like to do it: so, I’m lucky,’ he says. ‘To be dancing this beautiful, soft movement, yet making it look masculine and powerful is a rare thing, and quite special.’
Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Tue 22–Sat 26 Apr.