Review: Swan Lake ballet. Curve Leicester (touring)

Swan Lake is legendary. It is literally a story we grow up with, a fairytale woven through with the incredibly emotive music of Tchaikovsky, so even those who have never been to the ballet know of it. When Matthew Bourne created his new vision for Swan Lake, over 20 years ago, it shook the traditional ballet world. But he has created a new classic and as a first-time observer, this feels as breathtakingly fresh as if it had just opened for the first time.

Turning tradition on its head, Bourne introduces male dancers as the swans and through sharply observed and exquisitely detailed choreography draws us into a whole new world. By turns powerful and athletic, then graceful and sinuous, the flight of swans are mesmerising. They remain wild creatures, and whilst we admire their beauty and are left in awe of their physicality and finesse. They are aggressive and ultimately ruthless animals. The thrill of the piece is that the dancers are swans, with just the angle of their head or a ripple of the back denoting their animalistic behaviour.

Click image above to check out Matthew Bourne in Conversations with Alastair Macaulay book. Published 2011.

Will Bozier as The Swan/The Stranger in this performance, is simply astonishing. As The Swan, he exudes instinctive animal strength, is muscular and athletic, often air-borne, and personifies the beautiful bird. As The Stranger, he is sly, sharp and serpentine, representing an extremity of human masculinity which is both magnetic and repugnant. In contrast to both these potent characters, The Prince seems a mere boy, simply seeking some sign of affection from the Queen, and finding none, seeks it in hedonistic pursuits at the local bar. Dominic North, as The Prince, is delicate and elegant, his dancing as light as a feather but full of pure yearning and emotion. The duets between the two dancers are extraordinary, a to and fro of approach and retreat, trust and mis-trust, and finally recognition and tenderness. The relationship between the Swan and the Prince is subtle, beautiful and undefined. The Prince is captivated by the Swan’s beauty and strength, the Swan entranced by the fragility of the human Prince.

Outside of this central relationship, the protected world of the court is beautifully presented with a dramatic and imposing set, scaled to make the dancers look like miniatures. And so, we seem like gods observing. Everything is oversized but the simple lines and restrained palette make it feel enormously contemporary. The costumes and set, both by Lez Brotherston, in neutral tones, with just a few strong slashes of red, purple and gold conjure up the tradition and formality of the monarchy.

What is unexpected in this production is the clever comedy that is brought out of the piece and this, together with some light-hearted touches in the setting and a funky ‘modern’ bar scene, make it not only a piece of art but hugely entertaining and relevant to today. This is a truly magical spectacle of a show. Fresh, vital, funny, athletic and a celebration of the beauty and strength of the human body. A joy to watch and a privilege to see.

Swan Lake runs at Curve until Saturday 6th Oct 2018

Reviewer: Kathryn McAuley.

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