Dance Review: Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake - photo by Bill Cooper

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake - photo by Bill Cooper - Credit: Archant

It has been more than a decade since Matthew Bourne threw the rule book out of the window and brought his radical interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake to the stage. His big idea was to wave goodbye to tutu-wearing ballerinas as the iconic swans and bring in a group of head-shaven testosterone-charged men. Brave? Yes. Bold? Definitely.

So, it’s a relief that 15 years on his work has lost none of its modern edge. And what’s even better about Bourne’s latest reincarnation is that it stars one of St Albans’ finest dancers. Fresh from acting alongside Will Young in Cabaret, Edd Mitton, a former Theatrix student and teacher, has joined the cast as part of the menacing male ensemble.

Like the classic ballet, Bourne’s production is centered on the story of a sad, confused Prince (Simon Williams) who, in a dream-like trance, encounters a game of swans and falls for their leader (Jonathan Ollivier). While our feathered friends wait until Act Two to show themselves, this allows the Prince’s backstory to unfold and his cold-hearted mother (Michela Meazza) and ditzy girlfriend (Kerry Biggin) to be introduced.

The nods to modern society – the Corgi dog and ringing mobile phone – are a nice touch in this section and guarantee some laugh-out-loud moments as we watch the Prince unwillingly accompany his mother to various royal engagements.

At the end of his tether, he escapes to a park when in swoop the swans – flapping, leaping and ferocious-looking. From gestures mimicking feather plumping to preening, Bourne’s choreography is frighteningly realistic. In fact, so much so it becomes hard to distinguish between man and bird.

Ollivier comes into his own as the lead swan. His pas de deux with the Prince is tender yet he still manages to ooze all of his previous strength and power. And he delivers a wonderfully seductive performance parading around the royal ball as the leather-panted Black Swan before the piece heads towards its tragic conclusion.

Bourne’s Swan Lake may have stopped ruffling feathers worldwide but it still has the power to raise an entire audience to its feet.

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Swan Lake is at Sadler’s Wells until January, 26. For tickets call 0844 412 4300.