It’s been 24 years since Sir Matthew Bourne (The Red Shoes, Mary Poppins, Cinderella) first unveiled his take on the most famous ballet of all time and established himself as the UK’s most popular and successful choreographer and director. Retaining most of the iconic elements of the original Swan Lake, Bourne and award-winning theater designer, Lez Brotherston and lighting designer, Paule Constable create an exciting re-imagining of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, turning it into a clever, passionate and heart-wrenching psychosexual drama. Little wonder it’s bagged countless awards, including an Olivier and three Tonys along the way.
Bourne’s production is perhaps still best known for audaciously replacing the female corps-de-ballet with a male ensemble, shattering convention and tradition. Ballet purists may still cringe, but what a loss it would be not to enjoy this classic through a fresh, bold lens. There’s a common misconception that the whole cast has been replaced with male dancers, but it’s just the swans; the roles of the Queen, various princesses and “the unsuitable girlfriend” are still performed by women.
The character of the Girlfriend is played hilariously by Katrina Lyndon (The Red Shoes, Sleeping Beauty), an endearing wannabe socialite whose faux pas and social gaffes generate the warmest audience responses, lending this dark tale a much needed comedic touch. The Queen, played by Nicole Kabera (Cinderella, The Nutcracker), is a force to be reckoned with. Mother to the vulnerable Prince (Andrew Monaghan, Cinderella, The Red Shoes) she is the source of his angst and neglect, as determined to teach her son the duties of royalty as she is to avoid his touch while also reveling in public adulation and the advances of young, handsome men.
The Prince’s desperation and loneliness brings him to the brink of suicide by a beautiful lake where he encounters the swans, and he is irrevocably changed, or rather, set free to be himself. Will Bozier (Wicked, Sleeping Beauty) is brilliant in his dual role as not only the principal Swan, but also the leather-clad scheming philanderer known in the original ballet as the “Black Swan.” Monaghan is flawless as the besotten Prince, his boyish looks and slightness conveying a sense of aching vulnerability essential to the character.
Bourne’s choreography shows tremendous wit and intelligence by parodying the romantic ballet, and incorporating a bump-and-grind disco, a cheeky tango, and a frightening finale (reportedly based on Hitchcock’s “The Birds”) in which the swans reveal their most malicious avian nature. Even in today’s increasingly liberal and tolerant society, a show that proudly puts a love story between two men center stage and receives standing ovations all over the world, deserves our applause and respect.
— Victor Riobo
Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is playing at CTGLA Ahmanson Theater through January 5th. Tickets HERE.