Matthew Bourne’s Omnierotic Swan Lake

March 9, 2006

Last night Mark Carlson invited me to join him seeing Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” at the Ahmanson Theatre (Los Angeles). [ synopsis ] I now know that there is a DVD available of this, and the work has toured internationally since 1997.

Wild Swans

“Wild Swans” (photo by Dee Conway)

We sat in the first balcony above the stage. Mark was annoyed at not being able to see around the corner, but I got to watch the orchestra, as well as see sidestage activity. Seeing the seems of the production was great fun.

(Let me preface this by saying I’m not a ballet expert. I know many ballets, but an expert in the dance side of it all, I am not.)

Every aspect of this production was thrilling. The movement of the dancers was clearly built on Russian-school 19th century tradition. But the moves incorporate the gang scenes from “West Side Story.” Bleeding chunks ripped from popular dance styles from the 1950s to present. Belly dancing gyrations. Pelvic thrusts that Elvis would have envied.

The wild swans are represented by an all male ensemble (see pic above). Swans, like geese I presume, can be mean creatures. The gaggle of them (or whatever a group of swans is called) tittered about the stage, and the Alpha male asserts himself. He is the biggest, he has the hairiest chest. The rest of the swans are also bare-chested and hairless. It is Alpha who prevents our young queer Prince from committing suicide, and a swan-Prince love affair begins.

What I loved about the actual men dancing, is that they were largely mesomorphs. This was surprising as I so often expect male dancers to be ultra skinny. These guys were not. Alpha was probably 180ish pounds. The women in the production were also “normal” and most of them seemed to have big thighs. Again, not your typical ultra-thin ballerinas. This earthiness in the variety of bodies flailing around on the stage was erotic: all night long. Add to this image, the more the swans dance, the sweatier they get, and their bodies begin reflecting the brilliant lighting design like a firefly overlay. (I think I read that this production was originally an all male show. We were fairly certain that the “female” dancers were really female.)

The Queen dances with the mysterious stranger

The queen was a firy persona, chilly to her son, aware of her rule, and brimming with sexual desire and power. It comes to the fore in her dance with the mysterious stranger in Act 3 who looks suspiciously like the swan. After this point, both the Prince and the Queen are lusting after the same man. Like most gay movies, the queer Prince dies in the end, a tragic figure, but not before Alpha is dethroned and killed by his flock.

If you have never seen this production, put it on your list of DVDs to rent, or better yet, seek out a live performance. It’s here in LA through March 19. It shows on PBS from time to time.

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