Swept Away By Swan Lake By Matthew Phillips

Matthew Phillips reviews Matthew Bourne’s long-running, dramatic and modern rendering of a Russian classic….

Swan Lake - Matthew Bourne

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake has returned to the London stage following a tour that has wowed audiences around the world. As the longest running ballet both on Broadway and the West End, it has collected enough awards to overfill most mantelpieces. It is presently showing at Sadler’s Wells theatre before embarking on a UK tour.

Sadler’s Wells may lack the Edwardian facades and dangling chandeliers of its sister theatres in the West End but it is the ideal venue to stage the contemporary dance for which it was intended. Alongside the faded red curtains, Cornish ice-cream and broken binoculars, which sour so many great British theatres, it has an air of dignity and refinement.

Bourne’s reinterpretation of this Russian classic has caused some controversy since its debut in 1995. It pitches homosexual romance centre-stage by presenting the swans as males rather than females. Purists have deemed this to be a gratuitous perversion of the original narrative, but I beg to differ. Anyone who has encountered a real swan will know that they are not the graceful, elegant birds that are so often portrayed in popular literature. On the contrary, they are the hissing, ferocious beasts that have driven the most well-intentioned to flee in terror.

Bourne has succeeded in writing a modern ballet for modern times. Moreover, after 15 years of unbroken routine, it has not become prey to that stale sense of ennui, which has infected some of our most cherished and, quite frankly, interminable productions. Indeed, I do not think that there was anything unusual when, on the evening I attended this ballet, the entire audience, myself included, rose to give a standing ovation.