Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake Review


Image courtesy of the Irish Times

Callan Engstrom, Editor

  Swan Lake is arguably the most famous ballet of all time. People either think of the 1877 version with classically beautiful women floating around en pointe, or the dark and manic version portrayed by Natalie Portman in the hit film Black Swan. But there’s a new production that turns all previous notions of Swan Lake on their heads. First premiering in 1995, Sir Matthew Bourne’s version of Swan Lake totally revamps and modernizes the classic, with the most obvious change being that all of the swans are played by men. 

Image courtesy of British Theater Guide

  Swan Lake opened at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles on December 3rd, 22 years since it was first performed in that theater. This new and modernized version changes lots of the original storyline for modern viewers. The story follows a young Prince, who is unloved by his mother and an outsider in his own life. After finding out that his own girlfriend was paid off to humiliate him by the Queen’s private secretary, the Prince writes a suicide note and prepares to throw himself into a nearby lake. He is stopped by a group of swans, led by the Lead Swan, who dance around the prince and convince him to keep living. The Prince then attends a ball thrown by the queen, with a host of princesses from foreign nations. The Stranger appears, played by the same actor who played the Lead Swan, and dances with all of the women at the ball, including the Queen. He violently rejects the Prince, leading to violence and the Prince’s abrupt mental decline.

Image courtesy of the Independent

  The choreography is absolutely stunning. Each dancer controls their body with such elegance and emotion, it takes your breath away. The two standouts were the Prince and the Lead Swan, who’s intense chemistry really make the show. The Prince’s young and explosive style shines in his powerful duet with the Queen, where he begs for her love and affection. The Lead Swan shows control and grace, while the Stranger exudes tension and sex appeal. These opposing styles create gorgeous images when put together during their duets. Another standout is the Girlfriend, who steals the first act with her comedic relief and plot twists. 

  While it seems like replacing the large corps of female swan dancers would throw the story off, the complete opposite is true. The strong and powerful male dancers perfectly embody the grace and danger found in real swans. The Lead Swan’s powerful leaps give him the appearance of flying across the stage. Additionally, having the Lead Swan being played by a man adds numerous layers to the unrequited and forbidden love expressed by the Prince. 

Image courtesy of Saddler Swells

  This show feels perfectly at home in the vast expanse of the Ahmanson stage. On stage, the expert dancers are framed by larger-than-life set pieces, giving the stage a slightly fairytale feel, while still retaining the realistic undertones. The costumes seem stuck between the 1950’s and a modern red carpet, giving the show a surrealist and timeless feel. One of the most stunning elements of the show was the use of lighting. The stage was washed in a dark blue glow during the Prince and Lead Swan’s duets, and a hauntingly tall shadow of the dancers was cast on the wall during the Prince and Queen’s scene. 

  The show stuns audiences, leaving them in wonder after the emotional climax and passion shown in the final scene. After seeing this production of Swan Lake, you can never go back to the original.