Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake
Sadler’s Wells, London ★★★★✩
WHEN Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake first swooped on to the stage 23 years ago, it was revolutionary. There had been male dancers tackling traditionally female parts before, but no one had gone the whole swan and turned Swan Lake into a man-on-man love story — or, rather man on swan — complete with a corps de ballet baring chiselled chests rather than fluttering tutus.
No wonder dance fans flocked to see it. There are few creations in any field that are true game-changers but this is one of them. It was ahead of its time, as if Bourne had a crystal ball and was gazing ahead to these gender-fluid times.
But it was no one-trick pony: it came with a heart-stopping love story attached. The intriguing thing about this revival was to see if Bourne would give his classic a major revisit. But, bar the odd tweak for digital times, it is as he first envisioned it. The tale of a tormented young man, torn between desire and duty, still packs a powerful emotional punch even though these days, you’d hope, he’d have more chance of a happy ending.
The hurdle the show has to leap is that, now the audacious dazzle of the original, bold re-imagining has dimmed, it has to rely on the power of the performances to make it take flight more than it did first time round. To make the story really fizz you need to truly feel the anguished chemistry between the Prince and the Swan, not just watch it as a bystander.
And though Matthew Ball as the Swan and Liam Mower as the Prince gave it their all, as a pair they felt mismatched, Ball’s feral power overpowering his partner.
But there will be more princes, more swans, indeed there’s a trio of alternative couplings in this run. For this is a show that will dance down the years — the underlying message, a howl against the destructive power of intolerance, is one that echoes loudly in any age.