×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Swan Lake

After more than a century of tutus and tiaras, even the most rigid of balletomanes may be inclined to welcome Matthew Bourne's bewitching new staging of "Swan Lake" as a breath of fresh air. It's more like a gale-force wind, actually, blowing away a fair portion of the ballet's mythical plot along with all that white tulle.

With:
Cast: Andrew Walkinshaw (The Young Prince), Adam Cooper (The Swan), Lynn Seymour (The Queen), Barry Atkinson (The Private Secretary), Scott Ambler (The Prince), Emily Piercy (The Prince's Girlfriend); Jacqueline Anderson, Teresa Barker, Sarah Barron, Stephen Berkeley-White, Lee Boggess, Theo Clinkard, Andrew Corbett, Saranne Curtin, Misha Downey, Darren Ellis, Vicky Evans, Maxine Fone, Valentina Formenti, Heather Habens, Ben Hartley, Floyd Hendricks, Phil Hill, William Kemp, Michela Meazza, Jonathan Mitchell, Mark Mitchell, Isabel Mortimer, Eddie Nixon, Neil Penlington, Arthur Pita, Simon Reglar, Alex Rose, Colin Ross-Waterson, Tom Searle, Kristy Tapp, Ewan Wardrop, Ben Wright, William Yong.

After more than a century of tutus and tiaras, even the most rigid of balletomanes may be inclined to welcome Matthew Bourne’s bewitching new staging of “Swan Lake” as a breath of fresh air. It’s more like a gale-force wind, actually, blowing away a fair portion of the ballet’s mythical plot along with all that white tulle. Instead of the picturesque legend of doomed love between a swan and a prince, Bourne sets the Tchaikovsky score to an intense contemporary psychodrama with overtones both Freudian and homoerotic, dressed up with gaudy doses of comic kitsch. Most famously, the swan in this “Lake” is not a prima ballerina but a strapping, brooding young man, and his darker doppelganger is a black-leather-clad stud who all but arrives on a motorcycle.

If irreverence is the hallmark of Bourne’s style, wit is his favorite weapon. The show begins with the young prince atop an oversized bed dominated by the image of a huge golden crown. He descends to earth on the backs of some of his large cadre of servants, and in a scene that amusingly spoofs the poses and pastimes of latter-day royalty (lots of waving, the occasional christening), we see that it’s not just his bed but his life that’s dominated by the constrictions of royal duty, personified in the icy hauteur of his mother the Queen (Lynn Seymour, who comes by her regal bearing honestly: She’s a grande dame of the ballet world.)

Midway through this opening scene the adolescent prince is transformed into a young man, danced and acted with grace by Scott Ambler, whose loneliness drives the story to its tragic conclusion. Adrift in his palace with only a very conflicted relationship with mama to divert him, the Prince takes to drink, while his mother’s secretary (Barry Atkinson, in the very vague equivalent of the Von Rothbart role) goads him into a disillusioning flirtation with an ambitious vixen in a pink pouf (Emily Piercy, a delightful comic actress as well as a lovely, lithe dancer). At low ebb after an evening of dissipation at a nightclub — the show-stopping scene reveals Bourne’s energetic style at its best and his equal fondness for pastiche at its worst (was the Afro really necessary?) — the prince finally comes upon the swan whose image he’s been haunted by since youth.

Although news that this corps of swans is exclusively male may conjure up images of men mincing in tutus (see Les Ballets Trocadero de Monte Carlo, “Love! Valour! Compassion!”), Bourne confines such easy mockery to a ballet-within-a-ballet spoof — crowd-wowing but heavy-handed — that’s dispatched earlier in the evening (featuring a ballerina who seems to be an homage to Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl’s” own takeoff of “Swan Lake”). These swans, though bare-chested, have an androgyny that’s more animal than human, and their dance has both the awkwardness and grace of the real creatures.

The prince’s fascination with the leader of this corps, danced magnificently by the magnetic Adam Cooper, is hardly erotic. The prince is a damaged soul, haunted by the confusions of earthly desire, who sees in the swan a vision of the freedom that’s denied him, a dream soul unfettered by social and perhaps sexual conventions. It’s a vision that is both enthralling and torturing. When the prince leaps into the swan’s arms and wraps him in an almost fetal embrace, it’s as if he wants to disappear into this unearthly creature.

Only when the swan’s dark double appears in the second act, as the leather-clad sexual cynosure of the royal ball, does the prince’s fascination turn erotic, ending in a burst of violence that seems Bourne’s chief misfire, treading as it does too firmly in Tarantino territory. (And that riding crop is a crass touch.)

Bourne’s choreography melds the occasional traditional ballet movement with a wide repertoire of modern styles. It’s always energetic and entertaining, and often quite beautiful, particularly as executed by Cooper and his swan throng. Most significantly, it’s attentive to Tchaikovsky’s music. But dance aficionados may find a certain surfeit of busy-ness covering occasionally for a lack of invention, and even to this non-aficionado, Bourne’s style occasionally seems too eclectic for its own good.

Eclectic, too, are the design elements, executed with great wit and panache. Lez Brotherston’s set is spare and elegant when it needs to be, and vivid and witty when that’s required. His costumes blithely ignore ideas of period, suiting each character or scene to its own era. The queen’s full-skirted gowns are strictly ’50s; the gold-digging girlfriend’s getups scream ’80s — Lacroix, sweetie! Rick Fisher’s finely detailed lighting has its own moment in the sun, when giant shadows are used to great effect after the prince’s breakdown.

A small-sounding orchestra probably won’t bother the mainstream audiences that will be this eminently accessible production’s bread and butter here in L.A. and on its future Broadway stand. Traditionalists may quibble that Tchaikovsky wrote his music to accompany a very particular tale, but who is to say that the composer, himself troubled by his sexual inclinations, would not be moved to see one of his most famous scores set to a story of a young man’s sexual confusion, a deepening — not cheapening — twist on the original myth of the tragic consequences of thwarted love.

Swan Lake

Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles; 1,611 seats; $60 top

Production: Center Theatre Group in cooperation with Doolittle's Southern California Theatre Assn., Jujamcyn Theaters, Tennenbaum & Co. LLC and UCLA Center for the Performing Arts present Adventures in Motion Pictures in association with Cameron Mackintosh's production of the ballet in two acts by Tchaikovsky. Directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne.

Creative: Designed by Lez Brotherston; lighting, Rick Fisher; new orchestrations, Rowland Lee. Produced by Katherine Dore. Opened, reviewed April 25, 1997. Running time: 2 hours, 45 min.

Cast: Cast: Andrew Walkinshaw (The Young Prince), Adam Cooper (The Swan), Lynn Seymour (The Queen), Barry Atkinson (The Private Secretary), Scott Ambler (The Prince), Emily Piercy (The Prince's Girlfriend); Jacqueline Anderson, Teresa Barker, Sarah Barron, Stephen Berkeley-White, Lee Boggess, Theo Clinkard, Andrew Corbett, Saranne Curtin, Misha Downey, Darren Ellis, Vicky Evans, Maxine Fone, Valentina Formenti, Heather Habens, Ben Hartley, Floyd Hendricks, Phil Hill, William Kemp, Michela Meazza, Jonathan Mitchell, Mark Mitchell, Isabel Mortimer, Eddie Nixon, Neil Penlington, Arthur Pita, Simon Reglar, Alex Rose, Colin Ross-Waterson, Tom Searle, Kristy Tapp, Ewan Wardrop, Ben Wright, William Yong.

More Legit

  • The Jungle review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Jungle'

    With the rumbling of semis careening by and the sound of Middle Eastern music in the distance, “The Jungle” aims to vividly immerse audiences into the world of the real-life migrant and refugee camp of the same name. By telling the story of the Jungle’s creation in Calais, France, in 2015, and its eventual destruction [...]

  • Hillary Clinton'Network' play opening night, New

    Hillary Clinton Attends Opening of Broadway's 'Network'

    A 1976 film might not be expected to translate seamlessly to Broadway in 2018, but for the cast and creative team behind “Network,” which premiered Thursday night with Hillary Clinton in the audience, the story still feels uncomfortably close to home. “It was a satire then, and now it’s documentary realism,” said Lee Hall, who [...]

  • 'Network' Review: Bryan Cranston Stars on

    Broadway Review: 'Network' With Bryan Cranston

    The 1976 film “Network” won four Academy Awards, including best original screenplay for writer Paddy Chayefsky, for its blistering portrayal of an American society fueled by greed and bloated on corruption. A haggard Peter Finch took the best actor trophy for his harrowing performance as Howard Beale, a TV newsman who is so disgusted by [...]

  • Faye DunawayVanity Fair Oscar Party, Arrivals,

    Faye Dunaway to Play Katharine Hepburn on Broadway

    Faye Dunaway will return to Broadway to play another acting diva. The Oscar-winner is set to portray Katharine Hepburn in “Tea at Five,” a one-woman play that charts the movie legend’s career over the course of a winding monologue. Dunaway last appeared on Broadway in 1982’s “The Curse of the Aching Heart.” In the 1990s, [...]

  • Philip Bosco'The Savages' film after party,

    Tony Award Winner Philip Bosco Dies at 88

    Veteran character actor Philip Bosco, who won a Tony Award in 1989 for “Lend Me a Tenor” as an opera impresario and was nominated five other times, died Monday, according to his grandson, Luke Bosco. He was 88. Bosco received his first Tony nomination for “Rape of the Belt” in 1960. His other nominations were [...]

  • Hugh Jackman

    Hugh Jackman Says 'Greatest Showman' Success Made Him Revive Stage Show

    Hugh Jackman could have spent his hiatus between movies soaking up rays in Saint-Tropez. Instead of lounging poolside, the movie star will return to the stage for a grueling series of arena performances that will take him across Europe, Australia, and the U.S. The upcoming musical extravaganza, “The Man. The Music. The Show.,” kicks off [...]

  • Bob Mackie, Costume Designer and Cher'The

    Watch Cher's Surprise Performance at the Opening of Broadway's 'Cher' Musical

    Kanye West may have caused some unwanted drama at the opening of Broadway’s “The Cher Show” on Monday in New York, but thankfully his alleged bad behavior didn’t come close to spoiling the evening. Cher herself caused fantastic frenzy as she glided down the aisle of the jam-packed Neil Simon Theatre toward her seat. All [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content