Breaking with convention: the legendary re-imagination of a classic love story returns with spine-tingling virtuosity.

The brilliance of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is impossible to reduce to a single factor. The inspired choreography, the dramatic set, the stunning costumes, the impeccable dancers, the striking lighting; there’s no doubt the artistry of this production continues to shatter tradition 13 years after its conception. 

Bourne, along with award-winning designers Lez Brotherston (set and costumes) and Paule Constable (lighting), have retained the instantly-recognisable features of the original show, adding a few modern elements to propel the production into the 21st century. 

When taking my seat at Birmingham Hippodrome ahead of the performance, one question remained in my mind: in 2019, will the decision to replace the female corps-de-ballet with a male ensemble in Swan Lake have the same breath-taking impact as it did in 1995?

Following the performance – I can resolutely answer: yes.

Today, the production is no longer seen as controversial, and is instead widely accepted as one that will have a momentous affect on the entirety of its audiences. It’s a production of legendary status – and rightly so. 

The audacious decision to choreograph an ensemble of muscular males in the roles of the swans is, quite simply, genius. It’s a decision that elevates the much-loved story of Swan Lake to unparalleled, modern heights. 

As the audience, we follow The Prince, played by Dominic North, as he battles with his own mind and hallucinations amidst expectations to act perfectly in his royal role. Having toured with Swan Lake for over 10 years, Dominic North’s performance was expectedly outstanding. North’s portrayal of The Prince’s turmoil through his emotive dancing is completely captivating – as an audience member your heart breaks for the character so evidently in distress, yet ignored. 

Moments of comic relief (particularly from The Unsuitable Girlfriend, Katrina Lyndon, and the washed-out burlesque dancer, Freya Field) were scattered throughout the performance, demonstrating Bourne’s ability to truly take audiences through a spectrum of emotions. 

Nicole Kabera as The Queen is chilling and unfeeling; her character focuses all attention on prestige and appearance whilst ignoring her son’s declining mental health and cries for help as best she can. It isn’t until the tragic ending of the performance that we see her inner emotions exposed. 

The heart-stopping moments of the show occur when the male ensemble of swans, led by Will Bozier, take over the stage. Embodying both the grandeur and violence of these animals, the performers simultaneously inspire with awe and intimidate The Prince - each precise movement accumulates to a feast for the eyes as the intense flock that leap about the stage effortlessly. The exhales and hisses the cast produce in unison add to the menacing nature of the group, contrasted with a playfulness Bourne occasionally injects into the choreography. 

With energy, power, and prowess, Bozier as The Swan completely commands the stage, executing complex routines in tandem with the drama of Tchaikovsky’s music. As The Stranger, his threateningly macho and sexual presence alters the scene he enters – it’s impossible to take your eyes off him. 

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is easily one of the best shows I have had the pleasure to review, fusing an otherworldly story of repression, sexual fantasy, love, and lust with a poignantly tragic ending you aren’t likely to forget. 

This contemporary interpretation of a timeless love story still possesses the ability to profoundly move audiences across the world – and is a must-see. 

Tickets available at Birmingham Hippodrome until February 15th 2019. 

Read the interview with Matthew Bourne here. 

Image credit: Johan Persson


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