Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake – Review – Bradford Alhambra

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Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake – Review

Bradford Alhambra, November 2018

by Sandra Callard

I have just seen Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake for the fourth time, and I cannot believe how each time the experience is just as profound as the last, and yet so different. It engenders emotions so diverse and strong that it lifts the ballet oceans above the normal.

Tchaikovsky’s original story is an emotional and heart-rending piece about the hopeless love which develops between the Prince and the Queen of the Swans. It is beautiful, sad and desolate, but their love is never in doubt.

Matthew Bourne turned this story around when he introduced a King of the Swans in place of a Queen in 1995 and made dance history. The addition of a male corps de ballet was the last straw for the purists, but the production caught the public’s imagination and the show became dynamite. It has never wavered in over 20 years, and is accepted as the Swan Lake to see.

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“Physical and dangerous”

The cast of Bourne’s New Adventures are rotated continually, and the leading dancers at one show may be in the corps de ballet the next, and vice versa. It is a wonderful way of getting the best out of talented dancers, and the Swan on the first night (Will Bozier) was exceptional. A large, muscular man who is also graceful and elegant is always surprising to see, and Bourne’s dancers never fail to thrill. The Swan is beautiful in every movement, but at the same time is threatening and menacing. The male corps de ballet is physical and dangerous but never fails to look exquisite, and the combination of strength and beauty is mesmerising.

The Swan is nicely complemented by Dominic North as the Prince. North is a slight and elegant dancer, and his deep passion for the Swan is shown in all its suffering. He is such a contrast to the Swan, both physically and emotionally, that his youth and inexperience are painfully apparent. His cold and beautiful mother, the Queen, is a stark contrast to her loving but lonely son, and Nicole Kabera dances the part to perfection.

matthew bourne's swan lake review bradford alhambra november 2018 ballet

“Sharp new dimension”

This new production is darker than previous ones and the Swan is depicted with a particularly cruel streak when he is transformed into a human and attends a royal ball. He mocks the love-sick prince by philandering with every female in the room, including the Prince’s mother, the Queen, and flaunts his conquests before the distressed Prince. They both fight against their growing attraction and their agony is palpable. This is more biting than previous productions, which have tended to focus only on the agonies of the Prince and the Swan, but nevertheless adds a sharp new dimension to the story.

A plaudit to the set designers is assured, as the glorious scenes come and go. Particularly impressive is the lake itself, and we first glimpse the Swan as he swims along on the gentle waves of the lake in an electrifying debut. The ballroom, the bedroom and the surprising addition of a scene in a bawdy nightclub are beautifully executed, and the royal box at the opera supplies a rarely seen humorous touch that is in no way out of place.

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“Exquisitely moving”

The expected glory of the Prince’s bed is as awesome as always, and the final agonising scene is as beautifully done as ever, with a surprising and exquisitely moving scene at the end. Bourne’s byword is always to ‘’expect the unexpected’’ and he did this in spades for this new performance of an age-old tale. The whispers of an astounded and appreciative audience were along the lines of ‘whatever else can he come up with to surprise us?’.

To be sure, he can and he will.

images: Johan Persson

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