So Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is not just mainstream, but striped across the schedule for up to two performances per day at Sadler’s Wells theatre as the main Christmas programme. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, in its original version Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake was uncannily true to Tchaikovsky’s music and spookily accurate with its reading of the Prince as emotionally stunted, almost sociopathic and the swans as the voices in his head of good and evil.
This 2018 revival, twenty-four years on from the original premiere, takes advantage of a recent stagecraft and lighting as well as clarifying and intensifying the characterisations. The ending is not just bitter but is now horrifyingly bleak, particularly if you have been following the intense psychological drama that is being played out with numerous signifiers and symbols. This is not just a revival, it’s Matthew Bourne’s concept reworked in a darker shade of black. The interpretation is detailed on many levels. The dance is accomplished across so many styles, classical, flamenco, South American, contemporary avant-garde and culminating in Matthew Bourne’s spine-chillingly thrilling and innovative dance with the Swan and the Prince, the two principals exploring dance moves we’ve never seen which bring the Prince his longed-for and lustful dance embraces with the Swan. The staging moves effortlessly between musical theatre and a classical ballet in modern dress.
Touches are a running theme through this production, a characteristic of the Prince’s situation is that nobody touches him with warmth, the first touch we see him receive is the Girlfriend’s casual slap. It’s quite a while in the action before he is touched again, and it’s always without warmth. It’s a visual emphasis of his emotional isolation. The Prince’s touches are graded from that first poke by the harlot “Girlfriend” (she’s no friend) to the eventual full-body danced embrace with the principal swan, harking back to the Prince’s Mother’s embrace; this in turn cruelly reprised in the final tableau.
Western scholars now consider the homosexuality of Pyotr Tchaikovsky to be central to his life, including his ill-fated marriage. Much of Act 1 of this production is exploring the roots of the Prince’s isolation while Act 2 explores the consequences. It’s not a happy story, far from the graceful swans of classical productions although the black swan can equally be portrayed as a demon and a tempter. Matthew Bourne’s production is pacey, the orchestral tempi are brisk compared to either a classical production or the orchestral Suite.
Dominic North as The Prince dances brilliantly: characterful, expressing the bleak emotions of his character - despair, frustration, lust, paranoia. Max Westwell as The Swan, the tempter, the unreliable friend, the moment, is imposingly physical but supple and precise. Dominic North (the lighter dancer) does one heroic dance lift of the heavier dancer but it is as a pair of Principals they are most impressive, the medium of dance expressing the raw emotions of the Prince which the Swan exploits mercilessly and lustfully without caring.
Lighting is fluid and flexible, Brett Morris’s conducting (yes, live orchestra) similarly on the button although with subtle sound reinforcement - regrettably necessary with current audience manners.
This 2018 revival is witty and detailed on many levels, it highlights the macabre aspects of Tchaikovsky’s score, it includes major clarifications of the gay resonances whilst limiting the camp aspects to those with dramatic justification.
Great to share the experience with Oded. Thanks again.
Cast list Saturday 16 December 2018, evening.
The Swan / The Stranger: Max Westwell
The Prince: Dominic North
The Queen: Katrina Lyndon
The Girlfriend: Carrie Willis
The Private Secretary: Glenn Graham
All other parts are played by members of the company:
Isaac Peter Bowry
Parsifal James Hurst
Jack Willlam Parry
Conductor: Brett Morris