14 December 2009

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake at Sadler's Wells (December 2009)

Matthew Bourne first burst onto the dance scene in 1995 with his radical version of Swan Lake at Sadler's Wells that featured male swans. Since then I've seen several of his ballets but I had not seen Swan Lake until the current run back at Sadler's Wells.

Almost as hard to believe is the last time that I saw any version of Swan Lake was in Prague in 1991. At that time I had probably seen it 3 or 4 times in the previous two years because I used to be a season ticket holder for the English National Ballet and the Royal Ballet.

Therefore it is clear that this was a show that I really had to go to.

Matthew Bourne's interpretation of the most famous ballet is both radical and at the same time traditional.

The swans are male, so you get two men dancing the pas de deux that define the ballet, and the choreography is very modern with exaggerated gestures that can look clumsy to traditionalists. Not everybody loves modern dance, but I do.

The music is the very familiar and dramatic cascade of Tchaikovsky melodies and the main theme of the ballet (boy meets swan, boy meets second swan, boy goes back to first swan, they both die) is the same. There is nothing in this interpretation of the story for the traditionalists to get upset about.

I think that it is the modern interpretation of a classic story that makes it a success. Swan Lake is always worth watching but when it is with the original choreography then some of it is a little over familiar and there are no surprises; it's rather like eating McVities Digestives. The new version demands continuous attention and delights and surprises as it sweeps along; it's more like going to a new Indian restaurant.

This is Matthew Bourne and it is Sadler's Wells so it goes without staying that the production is excellent without imposing itself on the dance or the music. It was simply a sumptuous experience and one I hope to repeat next time that it returns to Sadler's Wells.

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