Since its inception 18 years ago, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake still hasn’t lost its charm or sophistication; Bourne’s striking contemporary retelling of Tchaikovsky’s widely-performed Swan Lake is fresh and bursting with charisma, and repeatedly performs to audiences across the world with ever-growing success. You might say Matthew Bourne is a narrative mastermind; when it comes to reimagining well-known ballets into contemporary pieces he does it with increasing success, which the evident passion and sharp choreography of this latest version testify to.
Every aspect of this production is impressive and the spectacular yet simple design by Lez Brotherston is a prime example. Featuring an array of locations, including a giant bed for the prince, a grand ballroom and a cheesy nightclub, it is complemented greatly by Rick Fisher’s solid lighting design which is pivotal in simulating The Prince’s submission to his mother towards the end of the piece with bold and overbearing shadows. The group of male swans – a defining feature of this production – lead by Jonathan Ollivier, move with delicacy and deliberate poise, emblematic of not only their transfixing beauty and grace, but also of their strength. Ollivier’s delivery as The Swan is exceptional; technical brilliance and an intensified, focused energy allow for an erotically-charged display between The Swan and The Prince (Simon Williams). Ollivier takes bold leaps and bounds across the stage commanding attention with a ferocious gaze that gives The Swan manipulative control whilst The Prince flounders, unable to control his elated admiration. Sadly, Ollivier doesn’t draw as much focus as The Stranger, blending in a little amongst the other dancers in The Royal Ball scene.
Bourne’s interpretation draws on a much darker side of the traditional quaint ballet ,and this is evidenced in the bold choreography that directly confronts the undertones in the music. Humour filters through every now and then, though, in fleeting and well-timed comic moments. Kerry Biggin breaks up the dramatic tension by combining dumb-wit naivety with an eagerness to please in her role as The Girlfriend. Biggin is bursting with personality from start to finish, and her refreshing normality creates a welcome contrast to the grandeur and uncertainty surrounding The Prince’s emotions.
Bourne’s Swan Lake is heavily infused with narrative and character right the way through the piece, maintaining exceptionally compelling relationships through a varied performance that maximises the precision and potential for engaging and bold choreography in a stunning reworking of a classic tale.
Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is playing at Sadler’s Wells until 26 January. For more information and tickets, see the Matthew Bourne website.