Review: Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 10 Dec 09 - 24 Jan 2010
Reviewed by Libby Costello - Sunday 3 January 2010

Matthew Bourne's 'Swan Lake'

Reviewed: 18 December

Fourteen years ago Matthew Bourne’s male swans beat their muscular wings into the limelight. Like any successful version of _*Swan Lake* _Bourne’s production stayed true to the libretto and exhibited musical genius – but with a twist that set out to redefine dance theatre and bring new audiences to the genre.

With a lengthy run at Sadler’s Wells this winter resident company New Adventures have tightened the comedy and picked the perfect mix of old and new faces to tell this familiar tale. The brilliance of Bourne’s *Swan Lake* _has two key elements: the strong choreography using every nuance of Tchaikovsky’s score to bring out emotional depth and Lez Brotherston’s iconic swan costumes – immortalized by Adam Cooper in the final scenes of the ballet boy movie _*Billy Elliot*.

This princely tale of depression, an oppressive mother, homoerotic desires and a longing for freedom from social requirements loosely mirrored the themes of the day in 1990s Britain – most poignantly the girlfriend character who always fails to hit the right note. Yet in 2009 this lack of connection to current politics or headlines does not hinder the story in any way, removed from the context of it’s creation the humor shines through for its own merits. And what merits this production has – namely its cast. Maddy Brennan is by far the best girlfriend in years, a ditzy blonde clueless to the upper classes airs and graces. Scott Ambler, Associate Director of New Adventures and the first Prince in 1995, now plays the Private Secretary, expertly keeping an eagle eye on activities, ensuring that any royal ambiguities are under the radar, whether they be suicidal tendencies or exploits with men in uniform.

Coupled with the costumes, Brotherston’s set adds the cartoon-like portrayal of this story – allowing each character to comfortably become a caricature of themselves. No one else has the same opportunity to exploit this as Nina Goldman, playing the Queen. Much like in classical ballet the role of parental royalty falls to mature distinguished dancers, and it’s nice to see New Adventures continuing in this tradition. Rick Fisher’s lighting helps to turn Goldman’s elegant frame into a monstrously imposing silhouette, haunting her son’s dreams. With a penchant for young men this Queen has her hands full with this male dominated cast.

Past versions of the show have won critics column space for the cheesy ‘Swank’ nightclub characters and the faux pas in the Royal Box – but this year it’s the Stranger’s duets at the Royal Ball which shine. If Richard Winsor’s White Swan left us lusting after Adam Cooper’s historic performance, his portrayal of the Stranger/Black Swan left you thinking ‘Adam who?’. The homme fatale oozed sex appeal with knowing looks, arrogantly smoking a cigarette, shooting alcohol and providing dominating partnering – when every man wants to be you and every woman is at your feet you’re bound to break a few hearts. It’s here that the strength of choreography and the company’s acting abilities truly unite. Bourne’s choreographic prowess and understanding of the human condition shine clearly.

Last but not least, the Swans. Led by Winsor this feisty flock hissed and spat with such venom that you knew they could break your leg, let alone your arm, with a wing. At the lake the cygnets set a welcomed light hearted tone, sandwiched between army style runs in an otherwise dark, heavily emotional and intense act II.

Although fourteen years pales into insignificance compared to the longevity of some choreographic masterpieces, in this modern world of fleeting fads Bourne’s version is still exciting audiences – and looks set to stand the pace of time.

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