Matthew Bourne’s SWAN LAKE. Will Bozier ‘The Swan’ and ensemble. Photos by Johan Persson
Swan Lake in various forms is probably the most performed ballet production across the world, and many prestigious companies still fill theatres with this popular work in traditional form, confident that the magical story and Tchaikovsky’s glorious music will please audiences. The story of a lonely prince falling in love with a swan has origins lost in time and folklore but gives a perfect framework for a magical ballet.
In 1995 Matthew Bourne decided to turn the work around by making the swan a man, and the flock of swans turn from gentle maidens into muscular young men. This simple device gives Bourne’s version a huge new energy and tension, but he does not stop there, he fills the stage with cheeky sub plots and fresh vignettes to the point where it is sometimes hard to know where to look. In the 24 years following he has further updated and developed the work as new generations of fine young dancers tackle the roles. Now, a scene is interrupted by an iPhone ringtone at one point as Queen, Prince and his rather uncultured girlfriend take in a night at the theatre to watch a ballet! Pretty sure that everyone in the real audience quietly checked that their phones were silenced at this point.
Set and costume designer Lee Brotherston creates a rich, colourful and sumptuous world of bold, bright sets and absolutely stunning costumes. The action starts in the bedroom of the troubled Prince tossing and turning in his dreams. The Queen looks in on him, but denies him the touch of affection he seeks. The scene is set for their difficult relationship to play out as the plot unfolds. The same set features at the climax of the ballet as death unites the spurned pair of Prince and Swan.
Dominic North was tonight’s Prince, and on set and dancing for most of the ballet he works relentlessly, yet captures our sympathy and empathy from the very start. His mother, the Queen, is a multi-layered character who prefers her own venal pleasures to the needs of her son. Nicole Kabera gives the role the perfect balance between stately haughtiness and discreet sensualist. Dominating the spectacular Bourne choreography though is Will Bozier in the dual role of the Swan and the enigmatic court stranger who appears to imitate him, to the great confusion of the troubled Prince. This confusion matches that in the original version where the swan maiden Odette is usually played by the same ballerina as Odile, the lookalike stranger who confuses the Prince at the Royal Ball. Bozier was enormously popular with tonight’s audience, quite rightly as his work is precise, impressive and very sensual.
With a very fully used stage there is no space in this production for a live orchestra, but the recorded sound, created for this work in 2004 is of good quality as we realise just how familiar so many of the themes of this composition are. However imaginative the libretto and choreography are in any ballet it is memorable music that means audiences will return year after year to the same fairly short list of classic shows. In using a recorded score Matthew Bourne is confirming the permanence of Tchaikovsky’s genius.
One of the sub-plots sees the Prince, under orders to pick a bride, choosing instead a vivacious but decidedly uncourtly girlfriend, brilliantly danced and acted by Freya Field. She brings a touch of Essex girl to the stuffy court proceedings but of course ultimately falls victim to the the tendency of the upper classes to exclude all but their own from the inner circles of wealth and power.
This magnificent production will satisfy all but the most conservative of traditional ballet fans and will delight lovers of modern dance. The company have refined and developed the work to give many layers of satisfying detail while retaining the power and elegance of the original tale. A deeply enjoyable evening of theatre that no-one should miss.
© Julian Swainson 2019
Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, Tuesday to Saturday April 2-6, 2019. Eves Tues-Sat 7.30pm, Mats Thurs & Sat 2.30pm. Tickets £10-£45. Discounts for Friends, Over-60s, Under-18s, and Groups. Audio-described Performance Sat 6 April, 2.30pm. For more information or to BOOK ONLINE www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the BOX OFFICE on 01603 630000.