I was apprehensive about seeing Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake; its legacy precedes it as one of the most groundbreaking pieces of dance in the last few decades. First performed in 1995, its perhaps best known for replacing the female corps-de-ballet with an entirely male cast, a game-changing move in its day. Now, Bourne has reworked his ballet again for a 21st-century audience. The dance itself delivered on these promises, but for me, it was the idea of the show that causes issues.
I can not fault the technique any dancer in the performance. The Swan (Will Bozier) is an incredible dancer who holds the presence of the stage, and The Prince (Dominic North) was so convincing in his role that his movements seemed as genuinely uncertain as his character. The company, in both their chorus roles and as the swans were beautifully in sync, demonstrating power and dominance as a solid unit.
Equally, the set, costume design, and every other constituent feature was exquisite. Additions such as the flash photography and the journalists, the very present media in the lives of the famous, was an exciting touch, calling into questions of perspectives and perception with the audience themselves becoming engrossed in the spectatorship of their world. The costumes and set both my Leg Brotherson were something else, full of glamour, diamantes, and grandeur. For opening night, the whole thing was immensely impressive and ran smoothly.
My central issue is this piece, and the reason it’s only getting three stars was where were the women? (I’m getting sick of asking this question). This is a ballet that was designed to create strong male leads, male role models in a time when ballet lacked such roles. The idea itself of taking classical ballet and reworking it In a contemporary style was new and fresh. At its time, and even a decade after that, it was revolutionary and inspiring, and it continues to be an incredible work of dance. However, I think it’s time to lay down dance’s past revolutions and start again.
When I ask where were the women in this piece, it’s not to say there were none altogether. There were two. The Queen (Katrina Lyndon), the malicious and scheming powerhouse who could pick whichever man she wanted from a line of soldiers, and The Girlfriend (Carrie Willis), the ditzy blonde dressed in a pink shirt skirt who was so clueless the men physically moved her around the stage. In a 21st century reimagining of this iconic piece, is this the best we can do? Old stereotypes someone found in a magazine from the 1950’s? I fully promote the placing the male roles at the forefront of ballet but caricaturing women to the point where the full female chorus, towards the end, wore masks of The Queen’s face and followed her around in a train. It’s not just unequal; it’s demoralising. If this had been an exact copy of the 1995 version, then I could have accepted this portrayal, but as a revised edition there was the opportunity for improvement and renewal. Would people be praising this production in the same way if men played those roles?
Overall, and I think I should reiterate this, I did love this ballet, and as a piece of art, it should be celebrated for what it did. It isn’t dated, instead, it just needs to be left aside to let a new work take the line light and continue dance’s evolving through time.