Thursday, February 6, 2020

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake - Finding The Freedom To Be Yourself

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

One of the basic tenets of people everywhere is the need to express who they are inside. This is the underlying principle beautifully expressed in the absolutely breathtaking Mathew Bourne's Swan Lake; as performed to the stirring music of Tchaikovsky. The work first seen on Broadway in 1998 and now currently at New York City Center.

The Prince (James Lovell) of an unnamed country is tormented by dreams of a mysterious flying creature. Graceful and powerful, this being suggests something wild and free. Said freedom something totally lacking in the life of order and responsibility the Prince was born into. His every moment and decision planned out each day before he even rises from bed. From when he brushes his teeth, to when he puts on his clothes, to what he will eat. The Prince finding himself suffocating under the rules and expectations of his position and more and more adrift in a world in which he feels completely out of place.

The Prince’s uneasiness also happens to run completely opposite to that of his mother, the Queen (Nicole Kabera). A woman clearly comfortable with her royal position and the role she is required to play. However, while well-versed in the ways of protocol, the Queen is either unwilling or unable to give her son any emotional support. She continually rebuffing him whenever he reaches out to her.

                                                  Swan Lake - Photo Credit: Johan Persson

After a disastrous attempt at royal date with his new Girlfriend (Katrina Lyndon), the Prince decides to end it all. But he’s distracted by the appearance of a magnificent Swan (Matthew Ball) and the flock which he apparently leads. The Prince astonished by the Swan’s movement and dancing, and totally enraptured by what it represents.

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is set in two different worlds. The first an existence of structured reality, where any expression of individuality is frowned upon. The members of the court and the Kingdom’s citizenry in general - from crowds of royal watchers to the paparazzi - all moving about as if they were simply playing a time-worn part. Their various dances and expressions at times appearing robotic and formulaic. Such as when the Prince’s attendants help him dress. This is a sharp contrast to the actions of the Swans, whose movements and gestures are far more powerful and expressive – such as when a group of them start “preening” – than anything the Prince has ever seen. Their every motion full of grace and purpose. It’s as if they are trying to break free of their earthly bonds.

These worlds are brought together at the top of act two, when a mysterious Stranger (Ball) suddenly appears at the Palace during a royal ball. This figure, who oozes sexuality from every pore, proceeds to captivate every woman present, including the previously standoffish Queen. While at the same time basically emasculating all of the men, and reducing them to little more than background fixtures. At least until they unconsciously accept him as their de facto leader and start to follow his actions. In the wake of the Stranger's presence, most everyone soon becomes more expressive and powerful in their own dancing; and seemingly just as free as the Swans the Prince saw earlier. Yet as the Prince watches all of this, he finds his perception of reality becoming more and more skewed as he struggles to understand in which existence he truly belongs.

                                              Matthew Ball (the Swan). Photo Credit: Johan Persson

The beauty of a well-presented dance is its ability to convey a story without saying a word. The different expressions on the dancers' faces perfectly in synch with their various movements, all conveying emotions, ideas and information necessary to move the story forward. Particularly striking are the moments with the Swans and the aforementioned party sequence, where each succeeding section of dance becomes more and more powerful. Until you finally think there’s no way the scene can get any more intense, only it does. 

Bourne’s concept is nothing less than spectacular. He having a firm handle on the tale he wants to tell as he guides the work, via his direction and choreography, with a sure hand. The different elements in the story ultimately representing the choices one must make when deciding how they want their life to turn out. 

Ball is superb in the roles of the Swan and the Stranger. In each case he carries himself with a combination of intensity and passion that simply explodes off the stage. His characters’ attitude showing him to be someone who gets exactly what he wants. Though as also made clear, even he must fight for what he desires most; while risking losing everything in the process.

Lovell is good as the Prince. While his joy at breaking free, at least temporarily, is obvious, and his scenes with Ball are wonderful to behold, one quickly sees this character as someone without the courage or wherewithal to become truly independent on his own. His inner rebellion never anything more than a token attempt at being different. Until he finally understands what he truly has been seeking.

                                                   The Swans. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Lyndon does nice comic turn as the Prince's Girlfriend. Something of a potential gold digger/celebrity whore, she eventually starts to care for the Prince in her own way. Kabera is fine as the Queen. A person who more has than a few emotional issues of her own to deal with. Jack Jones cuts a nicely sinister figure as the Private Secretary, though he also could be considered the Prince’s shadow or the Queen’s “bagman” as it were. He responsible for making sure that any potential problems or scandals are handled as discreetly as possible.

The sets by Lez Brotherston are excellent. Such as the city park at the close of act one. A place bound by iron gates where only the sea stretches out to the horizon, free and unencumbered. Brotherston’s costumes also work quite well. As do the lighting effects by Paul Constable.

Told in a sweeping grandeur, yet at the same time surprisingly intimate, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake illustrates the need to be oneself in a world (or worlds) which might not approve of the choices you make. This is one show that totally earned the enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience at the performance’s end.

Featuring:  Matthew Ball (The Swan/Stranger), James Lovell (The Prince), Nicole Kabera (The Queen), Katrina Lyndon (The Girlfriend), Jack Jones (The Private Secretary), Mari Kamata (The French Princess), Nicole Alphonce (The Romanian Princess), Katie Webb (The Spanish Princess), Michaela Guibarra (The Italian Princess), Kayla Collymore (The Hungarian Princess), Freya Field (The German Princess), Zanna Cornelis (The Princess of Monaco), Alistair Beattie (The Nobleman), Andrew Ashton (Swan), Jonathan-Luke Baker (Swan), Isaac Bowry (Swan), Joao Castro (Swan), Cameron Everitt (Sawn), Keenan Fletcher (Swan), Ashley-Jordon Packer (Swan), Jack William Parry (Swan), Barnaby Quarendon (Swan), Sam Salter (Swan), Mark Samaras (Swan), Alex Sturman (Swan), Stan West (Swan).

Maids & Servants, Dignitaries, Cadets, Queens’ Escort, Performers in “The Moth Ballet”, Soho Club Goers, Bag Lady, Photographers, TV Presenter, Autograph Hunters, Royal Watchers, Spanish Dancers and Nurses all played by members of the company. 

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake

Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Set and Costume Design: Lez Brotherston
Lighting Design: Paul Constable
Sound Design: Ken Hampton
Projection Design: Duncan McLean
Directed and Choreographed by Matthew Bourne

New York City Center
131 West 55th Street
Tickets: 212-581-1212 or 
Running Time: 2 Hours, 30 Minutes, with one intermission
Closes: February 9, 2020 

No comments:

Post a Comment