Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake review: Consummate storytelling

Extraordinary dancing unleashes the power and beauty of Tchaikovsky’s music

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake: so much strength and grace oozes from the men’s silken feathers that it ups the ante for everyone else on stage. Photograph: Johan Persson

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake: so much strength and grace oozes from the men’s silken feathers that it ups the ante for everyone else on stage. Photograph: Johan Persson

 

MATTHEW BOURNE’S SWAN LAKE

Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin
★★★★★
Like an Oscar-winning movie, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake continually offers new insights into the same compelling story. The opening scenes clearly introduce characters and a narrative, but in Bourne’s present-day take on the 19th-century classic the magic lies most in what is left open to interpretation.

A consummate storyteller, Bourne unleashes all the power and beauty in Tchaikovsky’s music through his extraordinary dancers. Leaps, kicks and turns electrify the stage until sultry hip swivels take over. What have become Bourne’s iconic male swans usurp the traditional female roles, replacing demure elegance with vitality and, eventually, aggression. So much strength and grace oozes from the men’s silken feathers that it ups the ante for everyone else on stage.

In addition to moving with refreshing clarity, the cast also excel at developing surprisingly complex characters, especially when compared with classical ballet’s tendency towards one-dimensional pantomime. Dominic North, as the prince, evolves from a son desperately seeking love from his mother to someone temporarily love-struck with happiness, and Nicole Kabera’s icy queen warms up when seduced by Will Bozier’s tantalising, sexy stranger.

Bourne presents vivid scenes, such as swans floating under a moon, like snapshots, giving a clear structure to Swan Lake’s complexities

Despite clear characterisations, Bourne lets imagination take over with the narrative. The prince struggles with his own demons, personified in Bozier’s dual stranger/swan character, a take on the classic Odette/Odile role. Later, the prince’s internal battle takes shape in a dreamlike state. Although his joy at discovering the swans contrasts with how haunted he becomes during his daily existence, eventually he cannot reconcile the two.

When reflecting on such eventful, layered storytelling, Bourne’s cinematic influences prove helpful. He presents vivid scenes, such as swans floating under a moon, or the prince sprawled on his oversized bed, like snapshots, giving a clear structure to this story’s complexities.

If there were one part of the dance to improve, it would be to sharpen the swans’ dancing in act two, which at times looks slightly less polished than on previous occasions. But in the context of the overall show, those steps amount to only a few feathers out of place.

Runs until Saturday, March 2nd

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