GUEST REVIEW: Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake

Matthew Bourne is an absolute genius in my eyes. He takes stories and turns them into beautiful, often sinister adaptations. He balances traditional ballet with modern contemporary in some kind of hipster mixology. Even if you don’t think you enjoy dance, I’m certain Bourne can change your mind.

Edward Scissorhands was the first Matthew Bourne production I ever saw back in 2015 and my oh my it was magical. It captured all the perfect moments from the film and used the glorious soundtrack.

Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to Swan Lake, which replaces ballerinas with a menacing bevy of swans. Google tells me that a ‘bevy’ is a group of swans. So instead, I asked a fellow blogger to go in my place. Georgina Wells is a huge dance fan. Like, you have no idea. Expert in the house. She was perfectly placed to go along and see this for the first time. And as Georgina describes, this is so much more than a gender swap.

Do you like watching ballets? Check out my review of Beauty and the Beast.

matthew bourne swan lake

Guest Review: Georgina gushes about Swan Lake (and rightly so)

Matthew Bourne’s iconic version of Swan Lake tours the UK this year in an updated production, but – somewhat shockingly – my trip to the Lowry marked the first time I’d ever seen it, so I felt like I would be in a good position to judge both its timelessness. Would it still feel as fresh as it must have done in 1995?

Short answer: yes.

Bourne famously tears up the classical ballet rule book, and in place of feather-light ballerinas in white tutus he inserts powerful, menacing male swans. But there’s far more to this Swan Lake than the gender swap. As with his Sleeping Beauty, Bourne takes the essentials – plot, music, characters – and spins it into something recognisable but entirely new.

The Prince (Dominic North) is a young, coddled and unlikely hero – legions of servants attend to his every need in time to Tchaikovsky’s strident opening music. Lyndon is fabulous as the ice cold Queen, from comically exaggerated eye rolls to cold, painful rebuttals of her son’s attempts to gain her affection.

Lez  Brotherston’s brilliant set design places the ballet inside an ornate, arch stage-within-a-stage, with the royal party ‘watching’ from a red velvet box next to it. His sets are simple but dramatic – the Prince is dwarfed to childlike proportions by an enormous bed, and the swans are discovered in a moonlit city park, complete with bench and lamp post.

Enter the Swans

The swans are mesmerising: sinister and animalistic in the lowered heads, arms extended in imitation of long necks, crouched in deep pliés as if ready to take flight – which they do, in endless leaps and springs. It’s clear that these aren’t graceful ballerinas gliding across the stage but wild, dangerous creatures.

The Swan (Will Bozier) is an awe-inspiring presence onstage – even when surrounded by a flock of other powerful, muscular swans – and lifts North with ease, but he lacks the technique to really execute Bourne’s choreography to its fullest potential. (Royal Ballet Principal Matthew Ball is also dancing the Swan, and the thought of him in this role genuinely gives me butterflies.)

I am so happy to have finally seen this pioneering piece of dance and I can wholeheartedly say that it was worth the wait. Whether you are a die-hard fan of classical ballet or a complete newbie, I urge you to see Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake – it’s the stuff of legends.

So there you have it. Looks like I missed out on a proper belter. Make sure you catch it before it swans off…!


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