Reviewed by Mary
(November 19, 1998)
It can come as a surprise to almost
no one that Matthew Bourne's production is a rethought, updated,
and phenomenally popular version of Swan Lake. I knew
about the male swans, the leather-clad black swan, and the digs
at the Royal Family. What did surprise me, considering
the drama awards it has won, is how poorly it hold up as a story,
especially when compared with its fairy tale original.
The prince in the beginning is
a caricature of a doofus and a cartoon can hardly be considered
a tragic figure. The Queen Mother has all the depth of
a burlesque fantasy, fondling anything in pants. There
is no promise of faithfulness in the white act, so no real conflict
in the Prince's actions in the ballroom scene. And the
ballroom scene is confused--the tutor/von Rothbart figure (who
seems to have bribed a floozy to pursue the Prince through the
first act), seems to be in cahoots with the black swan, who prances
around with all the women, including an especially hot and heavy
pas de deux with the Queen. What his relation to the White
Swan is, and why the Prince should care if he (like every other
man around) gropes the Queen Mother, is not clear.
The Black Swan then takes out a
gun and shoots the floozy, to the apparent glee of the tutor.
The prince then seems to have a breakdown, and his beloved White
Swan comes to see him. But since there has been no oath
sworn, the piercing sweetness of Tchaikovsky's forgiveness motif
seems out of place. Then more white swans turn up and peck
the Prince and his White Swan to death--again completely without
motivation. I suppose the choreographer could be saying
that society is corrupt, but nature is cruel. However the
characters are so flat it is hard to care.
Choreographically it was a mixture.
Most of the group dances looked like really bad TV variety show
variations, with a lot of groping and fondling. The ballet
take-off was just painful. To make fun of ballet to the
music of the Petipa pas de trois, one needs much more skill than
was shown here. Chasing ballerinas with a butterfly net
was funny once--when Jerome Robbins was young. Balanchine's
parody of Swan Lake in Western Symphony is
infinitely more witty and skillful.
But the lakeside scene is completely
different. The White Swan I saw, Will Kemp, was, according
to a friend who also saw Adam Cooper, much more sensuous and
mysterious than Cooper. The choreography for the swans
was magnificent, wild and free, and utterly inhuman. Under
its spell, even the hapless prince became real, and his joy and
finding a bit of freedom was unbelievably touching. Now,
if only Matthew Bourne would reduce his Swan Lake to
the white act, he would have a piece to match the hype.