The theater of dance hath no greater fury — or frisson — than a prince turned on to love and sexuality and then thwarted by it, which is just one of the reasons Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” seems as fresh in its 10th-anniversary London staging as it did when it preemed at Sadler’s Wells. In the intervening years, Bourne has become a West End mainstay whose hits include the newly opened “Mary Poppins.” But if “Swan Lake” remains his supreme achievement, that’s because it comes from the same wellspring that drives all the best art: the expression of something deep within that has, against the odds, gone on to pack a cumulative wallop with the public.
“Swan Lake” has now finished its seven-week anniversary engagement, but it’s hardly going away: The production tours this year to Japan and Korea, with Israel, Paris, Asia, and America penciled in for 2006. On the basis of the company that brought much of a sellout house to its feet, Bourne’s vision is strong enough to survive the absence of his brilliant original swan, Adam Cooper (who has gone on to his own choreographic career on shows like the Donmar’s current “Grand Hotel”).
Popular on Variety
Indeed, it does Jose Tirado’s feral Swan no disservice to point out that the dynamics of the piece have dramatically shifted. If the Spanish dancer commands attention from his first come-hither sighting of Neil Westmoreland’s anxious, yearning Prince, it is the gawky, gangly Englishman who is the emotional anchor of an evening with a quite extraordinary arc, beginning as high-style jape, then deepening further until it reaches a rare level of devastation.
The comedy of the sequences in the royal household is as strong as ever, especially as enacted by Candice Evans as a preening ice maiden of a queen and Sophia Hurdley as her desperate son’s gloriously bumptious girlfriend.
Bourne’s satiric instincts reach a peak in an extended sequence at the opera whose misbehavior has been updated from the original to include some business with a cell phone that rings all too hilariously true.
Bourne’s penchant for pastiche has long been clear (there are sections in “Poppins” where he pastiches his work on “Swan Lake”), and when it comes to running with an idea, this creator remains a conceptualist of a very particular order. But it’s the affective power of “Swan Lake” that seizes the imagination, every bit as viscerally as the now-celebrated image of all those bare-chested male swans piques an audience’s attention.
The opening image is of the Siegfried figure, the Prince, sitting bolt upright in bed, the spectral figure of the Swan gone as quickly as it is glimpsed. This Prince, one can tell from the outset, has known his share of psychological hard knocks. But even that doesn’t prepare you for the elaborate gavotte danced by these two contrasting figures, especially once the Swan — Bourne’s Odette/Odile equivalent — morphs into someone else: a louche, leather-clad man of mystery who arrives unannounced at the royal ball. (The gala shows Bourne at his most choreographically inventive, the moves riffing on one style after another while never losing their coherence.)
From there, the mood darkens, even as the ensuing pas de deux intensifies the stakes. Before long, this same liberated Prince is plunged into a devouring insanity that finds the agents of his onetime freedom returned to feast upon him.
A parable of repression and release that turns a touchstone ballet into a cri de coeur, this “Swan Lake” should be seen as far and wide as there are audiences capable of feeling: The feathered creatures deserve to fly.