MICHAEL BOURNE'S SWAN LAKE
February 2, 2020
By now Michael Bourne’s reimagining of Swan Lake feels like a NYC institution. Many encountered it on Broadway in 1998, and later in 2010 at City Center where it’s returned. A lover of the production choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov in 1895, Bourne kept the bones of the ballet but re-arranged a handful of gender roles and iconography.
Set in the English courts (after all (Bourne is a Brit) the story follows the sultry young The Prince (a fine Andrew Monaghan) who must choose a bride. A flair for the theatrical, Bourne elicits all the dramatic talents of his dancers to paint a contemporary “coming of age” story imbued in all its glorious angst and confusion.
Of course the kicker comes when the Prince escapes the ball, running to a park and sits by a mist-shrouded lake. There, out of the thick night materializes The Swan (startlingly good Matthew Ball). He emerges bare chested, donning knee-length-knickers covered in long white threads (like a lambs wool rug) savage eye make-up, his hair slicked into a V that juts down his forehead. In their first encounter, the amazed prince falls back, awed by the exotic and aggressive male/bird. This tension flourishes throughout the ballet, adding an additional dimension of fear and longing to the original.
Ball’s presence expands with every entrance. A strong technician, he has a gift for displaying the physicality of a predatory and passionate creature. Throughout the ballet, Jung’s theory of the existence of the masculine side (animus) inside every female and the feminine side (anima) inside every male coats the ballet. Barefoot and muscular, the male Swans uphold the beauty of the unison corps, swirling circles and iconic arabesques.
When the action returns to the castle for the ball and preparations for his marriage, Ball transforms into the ravishingly seductive Stranger. Another outstanding performer, the unscrupulous Queen (Katrina Lyndon), executes amazingly sharp gestures. All the fatuous, dolled-up ladies and gob smacked men (including the audience) fall under the Stranger’s flashing smile, peacock stance, flawless partnering and simply mesmerizing presence.
Unable to withstand this deception (Stranger feigning similarities to Swan), the Prince goes mad, and wakes up in an all white sanatorium. Finally, after being jabbed by lines and ladders of doctors in white frocks, he returns home.
The most graphic scene, the kind that forever remains glued to the back of your eyeballs, transpires in the Princes’ bedroom. Physically and psychologically exhausted, the Prince witnesses the Swan pushing through his mattress. Hungering for each other, a romantic pas de deux ensues -- as heart wrenching as Romeo’s last dance with Juliet. They wrap their bodies around each other until wild, rabid swans tear out of the matters and attack the couples! It’s truly horrifying.
If you haven’t seen Sir Michael Bourne’s Swan Lake, take a chance on a refreshed ballet classic.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis