Culture Writer Alice Landray reviews the ‘exquisite’ Swan Lake’ at the Birmingham Hippodrome
Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake was exquisite, in every sense of the word.
Having, admittedly, not had the pleasure of experiencing many ballets’ previously, I was excited, albeit a little apprehensive, when I was presented with the opportunity to watch Swan Lake at the Birmingham Hippodrome on Tuesday night. Afterwards, I was left in a state of awe. The elegance, beauty and power that flowed around the stage throughout the performance was unlike anything I have witnessed before: each outfit so carefully thought out and beautifully crafted, each character so genuine and animated, each individual’s talent so profound. If you are able, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is a must-see.
Bourne adapted the traditional storyline of Swan Lake for a contemporary audience. What was particularly impressive about this interpretation of the ballet was the use of gender. The original story of Swan Lake can be seen as falling into line with historical gender stereotypes, sticking to an all-too-familiar, safe, and arguably popular, fairy-tale about a beautiful princess and a handsome prince who, despite a sorcerer’s best efforts, fall hopelessly in love. Instead, Bourne embraced the strength and grace of male ballet talent and Tchaikovsky’s emotive music to create an alternative storyline which connected with the essence of the ballet and resonated more powerfully with a 21st century audience.
Prior to this re-vamp, Bourne expressed to The Telegraph that: “As long as you approach the music in a truthful way, I don’t see why it must always have the same steps and the same images.” It is this conscious and heart-felt connection between the new story, created in the context of a modern-day world, and the traditional music which, I believe, has led to such a widely popular reception across the UK. Although it was a risky move by Bourne, the magic and tragedy has been retained, and the story made more captivating.
Along the same vein, a particularly poignant scene was that in Act 1 where the Prince dances with his mother, the Queen. The use of lighting and shadow, combined with a relatively empty stage, enhanced the feelings of sadness and desperation: a son who desperately yearns for his mother’s love and approval, and a mother who can’t hide her disappointment with her son. The way the dance ensues, with reaching motion and aggressive contact, is somewhat reflective of current issues faced by teenagers and young adults: the struggle to fit in to modern-day society.
Also enjoyable was the tasteful weaving of comedy in the scenes, particularly in the first act, especially striking because it was perhaps something that I did not expect from the performance. Each character held their own: you could watch each person on stage and they would be entertainingly absorbed in their own storyline within the ballet. It made the performance even more engaging, and I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud on multiple occasions. Of particular note was the ‘girlfriend’. Performed by Katrina Lyndon, the character was played in an outstandingly witty way. However, for those of you concerned, fear not, this added comedy was tasteful and complementary to the traditional appeal of the ballet, and the tragic end was as emotionally poignant as I could imagine it possible.
Bourne’s production of Swan Lake successfully ruffles the feathers of traditional ballet and whips the audience up in a current and emotional form of magic.