I was lucky enough to see Mathew Bourne’s production of Swan Lake at the Saddler’s Wells theatre this last Sunday. A very different Ballet from the one I normally would see. This was a contemporary version of the old master piece set to Tchaikovsky’s wonderful music. I searched for the revised plot in the programme to find no explanation, but then I didn’t really need one. The story soon became self- explanatory.
This video is a short but good example of the reason I wanted to blog about it. I am not going to go into detail about the scenes, how powerful the Queen’s part was, how funny the girlfriend looked, or how beautiful and fresh the sets were, including the lively and colourful bar scene. Yes, a bar scene in Swan Lake- quite unheard of!
Instead, I am going to briefly describe how moved I was by the focus of the show: the swans, not women in soft white tulle but men, virile, strong, athletic and fit in white trouser-tunics covered in white feathers. Their dancing was utterly incredible and the choreography was stunning.
How they moved and swayed like birds, their grace equalled if not surpassed any female interpretation. I could not find a clip to illustrate the duet in Act 2, by the prince and the lead male swan, how it took me completely by surprise. The rhythm and style and how different it was to the usual male and female duets. No high jumps and gymnastics but I found I enjoyed it more than anything else I had ever seen. How in unison they were and how well they complimented each other; their movements and timing impeccable and precise, flowing yet exact in its technique. To me, it appeared flawless and perfect. I watched spellbound.
The dancing of men as swans in Swan Lake was new ground when this ballet first appeared back in 1995, for what was intended as a two-week season at Saddler’s wells and afterwards a UK tour. Since then the production has been revised and gone from strength to strength.
Ballet is like an institution or a tradition that needs to re-invent itself to ensure it continued appeal and success to new audiences. The old masterpieces will remain timeless and popular in their own way to the purists of ballet lovers. But new styles and ideas of expression is needed to ensure future generations can appreciate this art form. This production certainly did that. This ballet broke all the rules for me and entered into new waters. It was fresh and wonderful. I loved it. But the swans I loved the best.