Twenty-three years after it first premiered in 1995, Matthew Bourne’s production of Swan Lake returns to Sadler’s Wells' stage and reimagines, once again, the staple of classical ballet repertoire. Fans of the canonical Swan Lake and ballet purists will surely find this production to be something of a familiar stranger, as it remains comfortably faithful to the original masterpiece set to Tchaikovsky’s emblematic score and features reinterpretations of the ballet’s iconic dance sequences including the danse des petits cygnes ('dance of the four cygnets') and the black swan’s coda (think thirty-two dramatic fouettés).
The Swan (Matthew Ball) & The Prince (Liam Mower) in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake - © Johan Persson
Besides the lead male swan, the all male corps de ballet, and no pointe shoe in sight for most of the four acts, the light-heartedness of Bourne’s production really sets it apart from other performances and makes it appropriately delightful for the festive season. The pantomime is brilliantly comedic at points. The automaton corgi truly deserves a place of its own on the cast list, judging by the waves of laughs it was greeted by whenever on the stage. The Prince’s Girlfriend, exceptionally well interpreted by Carrie Willis, was another hit with the audience.
In the first act, movements depart majorly from the fluidity of the original and are instead intentionally sharp and staccato, only adding to the jolly tone. The clear peak of comedy in the production is during Act I, which sets the scene of an Opera House (think metatheatre) to delight the audience with a hilarious staging of a classical-esque ballet. Set against Lez Brotherton’s masterful designs, the first act is a sheer joy and is a stiff peak from which we plunge into the mesmerising acts that follow.
Freya Field as the Unsuitable Girlfriend in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake - © Johan Persson
While Act I encourages smiles and laughter, Act II provides jaw drops and awe. We meet the all male corps de ballet of swans bursting onto stage in an astounding display of athleticism with the Swan, interpreted by Will Bozier, and the Prince, embodied by Dominic North, being no exception. The tassels on the swans’ costumes make for a truly hypnotic visual and create a mesmerising contrast between the ethereal whiteness of the swans and the urban gloominess of the city park.
Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake - © Helen Maybanks
Act III portrays the Swan and the Prince at a Royal Ball, but as the story goes the black swan steals the show. His dances with the various princesses, the Girlfriend and the Queen herself, interpreted by Katrina Lyndon, leave little room to even remember that the Prince is already long forgotten. The energy builds with relentless pace, only to abruptly usher the audience into the contorted world of Act IV. The final scenes see a return to the Prince’s bedroom and depict a spectacular tussle between the corps of swans, the Swan and the Prince. The climax of the modern day production is suitably discomforting and ends the show in a fashion, which may not be to the taste of all, but I struggle to think of any great ending that is.
Edited by Evangeline Stanford
Sadler's Wells Theatre, Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R