If you love ballet or dance and don’t mind a twist on tradition, then Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” is a must-see. For those unfamiliar with Bourne, you’ll need to get ready for the switch from thin, willowy women to bare-chested virile men. Instead of lifts (there will be those) the airtime will be provided by the masculine leaps. “Swan Lake” opened on 5 December 2019 and continues at the Ahmanson until 5 January 2020.
None of this should come as a complete surprise because of the advertising campaign and Bourne’s version of “Swan Lake” was first performed in 1995 at the West End in London where it won the Best New Dance Production Laurence Olivier Award. In 1999, it won the Astaire Award for Excellence in Dance and three Tony Awards: Best Director of a Musical, Best Choreography and Best Costume Design.
The original “Swan Lake” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was first performed in 1877. Written as a tragedy, but sometimes performed as a happy-ending fairytale, the story begins with a Prince Siegfried who celebrates his birthday with his tutor, friends and peasant. His mother, the Queen, interrupts because she wants him to settle down and choose a bride. The prince wants to marry for love, but duty calls. To distract him, his tutor takes him hunting for swans. Separated from his hunting party, the prince witnesses a flock of swans landing near a lake and transformed into a beautiful woman. The woman, Odette, explains that she and her friends were turned into swans by the evil sorcerer, Rothbart. The spell can only be broken if someone swears to love Odette forever. Should Rothbart die, the spell will never be broken. The prince falls in love with Odette. Back at the palace, Rothbart transforms his daughter Odile into Odette’s image. When the prince declares his resolve to marry Odile, but realizing his mistake, he hurries back to the lake. It is too late. The spell will not be broken and the prince and Odette decide to die together, ascending to heaven together.
Matthew Bourne brings the story into the 1950s or early 1960s. Women wear dresses with tight bodices and full skirts with hems that grace the calf. The dance performance needs no words and begins with a dreamy soft focus grey image of a bird in flight. It will fly before we witness a man dream of swans. The young man is a prince (Andrew Monaghan on opening night) on an oversized bed. From his dream, he is awakened, troubled. He seeks comfort from his mother, the queen (Nicole Kabera), but she is more ice protocol than warm motherly comfort.
The young man is later dressed by a legion of men and women and does the ceremonial rounds, accompanying his mother as she attends christening of ships and such. He’s bored. Who wouldn’t be? During this time, an inappropriately dressed young woman–a pink bubble dress in a sea of black–gets his attention. She quickly becomes the Girlfriend (Katrina Lyndon), but she the source of annoyance for the Queen and laughter for the audience during a parody of the kind of romantic ballets that the original “Swan Lake” falls under.
The Prince finds that his girlfriend has not real love for him. Disillusioned, the Prince falls back into his dream of the swans and the swans come to him but not without a sense of putting him in his place. The lead swan (Will Bozier) represents the freedom that the Prince wants but Bozier also plays the dark Stranger who brings sensual tension to the palace.
This might be a great girls’ night out. Royalists and admirers of the British aristocracy might cringe at the cold queen depicted here. Oh, but if you love high airborne leaps of ballet dancers and don’t mind mocking humor, this is a must-see for all dancers and lovers of dance.
Tickets for Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” are available by calling (213) 972-4400, online at http://www.CenterTheatreGroup.org, or by visiting the Center Theatre Group Box Office located at the Ahmanson Theatre. Tickets range from $35 – $145 (ticket prices are subject to change). The Ahmanson Theatre is located at The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles, 90012.
Following its run in Los Angeles, Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” will also play the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. (January 21–26, 2020) and the New York City Center (January 30–February 9, 2020).