In February of 2006 I attended a performance of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake at the Historic State Theatre in Minneapolis.
Wikipedia notes the following about this beautiful and innovative dance performance.
Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake is a piece of ballet-influenced contemporary dance choreographed by Matthew Bourne that was first staged at Sadler’s Wells theatre in London in 1995. The longest running ballet in London’s West End and on Broadway, it has enjoyed two successful tours in the UK and thrilled audiences in Los Angeles, Europe, Australia and Japan.
The ballet is based loosely on the Russian romantic ballet Swan Lake, from which it takes the music by Tchaikovsky and the broad outline of the plot. Stylistic inspiration also came from the Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds. The ballet is particularly known for having the parts of the swans danced by men rather than women.
. . . The original ballet is a standard in the European tradition of romanticized female–male love. The heroine, the swan princess Odette, is portrayed as powerless but lovely in accordance with conventional gender roles, and her hero is portrayed as a hunter who alone has the power to save her. Having a man in the role of lead Swan puts love between men at center stage, and the naturalistic choreography given to the swan corps discredits the archetype of the swan as a pretty, feminine bird of gentle grace.
According to Bourne, “The idea of a male swan makes complete sense to me. The strength, the beauty, the enormous wingspan of these creatures suggests to the musculature of a male dancer more readily than a ballerina in her white tutu.”
This evening, as part of The Wild Reed’s ongoing series celebrating dance, I share a video clip of the finale from Bourne’s Swan Lake and excerpts from a review of the show by David Roberts. Enjoy!
When we are not loved as we need to be loved, we often survive the deprivation through fantasy. We enter a fantasy of our own making or perhaps a more universal fantasy we share with other persons searching for acceptance and love.
Matthew Bourne has found in Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake score the powerful story of love searched for, love unrequited, and love’s redeeming power when it is found. In so doing, he finds a story more universal than the original 1877 Tchaikovsky and Wenzel Reisinger Swan Lake or its 1895 Petipa-Ivavov revision.
Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is pure theatre and is most likely the most impressive and significant show to open on Broadway in a long time. The scope of its significance has no bounds and the impression it makes on the psyche and soul is indelible.
. . . Matthew Bourne has created an intense psychological drama. His choice of male swans is exactly what Tchaikovsy's music requires. These beautiful bare chested dancers (and the black leathered version of The Swan at the party) are the perfect medium for the Prince to discover and celebrate his sexuality. And although the Prince is unashamedly gay, Swan Lake is universal in its appeal and accessible to all persons who know what it means to be misunderstood, confused about sexuality and love, and long for intimacy and relationship.
“People write to me and say, ‘Oh, it’s about my father, a missing father figure, or about someone you can’t have, really,” says Bourne. “Basically, it’s this thing of someone who needs to be loved, and the heart of the Prince/Swan relationship is just the Prince being held. That’s the emotional high point, or at least it should be.”
Neither royal families nor families of swans tolerate well what they perceive as vastly different from the norm, especially if that difference might result in defection or abandonment of the family and its traditions, norms, values, and expectations. The Prince’s Swan fantasy allows the character and the audience to experience at the deepest levels the issues of becoming a distinct, separate individual and the risks involved in “leaving the flock.”
For the Prince and his love the male Swan, redemption comes through death. But not even the pecking of his swan mates nor the poking and prodding of the Prince’s nurses and doctor can ultimately defeat the love the two found in each other’s embrace.
As the Queen approaches her dead son on his bed – the closest she has come to expressing any sincere human emotion throughout – the audience sees the Swan and the Prince above and beyond the bed, in an embrace which will eternally link their hearts and their love and gives hope to all who search for love and meaning in relationship.
When our “perceived” self merges with our “real” self, there is usually some kind of death and loss, but more importantly, there is a rebirth.
When the curtain rises for the cast’s curtain call, the two leads come on stage first to take their bows. And this seems very right. It is important for the audience to know that these two actors/dancers and these two characters care for one another, love one another. As the rest of the cast appears, the audience feels just a little closer to believing that true love is possible, that women and men can find and give non-judgmental and unconditional love to others and to themselves.
Bravo, Matthew Bourne!!
– David Roberts
NOTE: Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake is available on DVD. For more information, click here.
Recommended Off-site Link:
The Official Website of Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake