Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake at Bristol Hippodrome

TO borrow part of the lyric from Johnny Mercer’s popular song, “When an irresistible force such as you, meets an old immovable object like me, something’s gotta give”.

You would expect the same sort of reaction if two geniuses clashed head on, but far from one giving way one to the other when composer Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky and choreographer Matthew Bourne’s talents were combined to create this version of Swan Lake, they formed an almost perfect partnership creating a stunning production.

Although it is 24 years since Matthew Bourne first shocked the world of ballet with his revolutionary version of Swan Lake, with what was thought at the time to be the outrageous idea of having an all-male corps-de-ballet to dance the roles of the Swans, as restaged (still under Bourne’s direction) by Kerry Biggin, Pia Driver and Etta Murfitt, it still has the power to thrill and excite an audience. Perhaps, more importantly, the power to draw an audience from members of the public who rarely if ever would make their way to a theatre to see a classical ballet.

The magical way in which Matthew Bourne has mixed the drama and comedy so that it fits Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score like a perfectly-made glove has built up a cult following who would no more miss a production of his Swan Lake than the most ardent pop fan would miss a chance to see their idols.

This production pulls no punches with the vibrant powerhouse dancing of the Swans demanding your attention, and some of the newly introduced characters, particularly the Marilyn Monroe like saucy Girlfriend producing outrageous comedy. Traditionalists will still have trouble accepting the storyline changes, but with the choreography fitting ideally into the style of the story-telling, and the changes of mood within the score, this really is a an evening full of unique fascination.

I am always more than a little suspicious of a show which uses “canned” music, but under the baton of Brett Morris this recording by the Swan Lake Orchestra, perfectly reproduced, was a model of what such a contribution should be.

The company obviously rehearsed within a an inch of their lives, and kept up to scratch by a resident director, even without the assistance of a live conductor out front to guide and protect them, hardly put a foot wrong throughout the evening. Whether it was the dramatic sequences between the Prince and the Swans, raw power and passion, or the elegant beautifully-costumed glamour of the Court scenes, with the flirtatious Stranger mixing drama and comedy, the production flowed like a Rolls Royce motor car from one destination to another.

Keeping up such an intense standard every night must put a tremendous strain on the dancers, and it was not surprising to find that every principal role was at least double cast and there were almost as many Swans sitting “on the bench” as the 14 that appeared on stage.

Everything about this memorable production has the mark of quality on it.


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