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Review: Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, at Sadler’s Wells Theatre

04 January, 2019 — By Howard Loxton

A key work – Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. Photo: Johan Persson

IT is 23 years since Matthew Bourne first staged his reworking of Swan Lake with its male swans sending a tremor through the dance world.

The excitement it generated is still there in this new production in which he and designer Lez Brotherston have rethought some points of décor and choreography, largely finessing detail, though the Prince dreaming of a swan at the opening is now already a young man not a little boy.

Trained for his royal role and expected to marry an appropriate princess, the Prince finds that he can’t conform and is about to commit suicide when he sees the Swan of his dreams emerge from the flock on a lake.

Unloved by his mother, ill-matched with a trashy girlfriend, this Swan seems his soul mate but when an erotically charged human version of the Swan appears the Prince is spurned in favour of others and the story moves on to a tragic conclusion for both Prince and Swan.

However you interpret this ballet: as a gay love story or that of anyone who doesn’t fit traditional expectations, it is full of feeling.

Its choreography is passionate, especially the duos for Prince and Swan, exciting and occasionally funny as in the Prince’s morning routine (with jokey details like the Queen’s corgi) and a delightful send-up of romantic ballet. It still seems remarkably inventive.

In this new production the swan flock seem much more malicious and frightening. Their fine dancing of choreography that offers more swan-like shapes than the traditional ladies in tutus is mark of how far male dancing has come since this work moved on the way people thought of male dancing.

Matthew Ball, guesting from the Royal Ballet, makes a magnificent Swan with a technique and presence that you can’t take your eyes off.

Liam Mower’s excellent Prince may seem in his shadow but that’s right for the character. (Through the run there will be other pairings.)

This is a key work that deserves a permanent place in the dance repertoire.

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