Having seen Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty last year, I was eager to catch his Swan Lake, famous for using male dancers as the swans. As I watched the production, it struck me just how inspired this decision was, the swans representing brutality and viciousness as well as beauty and grace.
Employing a narrative very different from any other Swan Lake I’ve heard of, the story revolves around a young Prince, trapped in his role and persuaded by his strict mother – with whom he seems to have a somewhat Oedipal relationship – to court a young and silly girl who flirts and struts in heels and whose phone goes off in the middle of the ballet they are watching (presented to the audience while the royals and their guests watch from the side box). It’s just one example of the wit and originality brought to the production.
On a more serious note, the Prince thinks about committing suicide before he is entranced by the world of the swans – the White Swan seems to represent the freedom he lacks. Later, when the Stranger – the Black Swan – turns up, the Prince’s jealousy is palpable, and everything builds up to a brutal, dramatic climax.
The staging is clever and inventive, particularly the huge bed in which the Prince is tortured by dreams of dancing swans, and which turns into the balcony from which he and his mother must wave to the crowd. There is nothing about this production that I could wish done differently – it is a superb piece, and thoroughly recommended.