Dance / Swan Lake Adventures in Motion Pictures - Sadler's Wells, London
Thursday 16 November 1995
Much of the pre-performance hype surrounding Bourne's Swan Lake has been generated because the choreographer has cast a man - the Royal Ballet's Adam Cooper - as the Swan and that his 14-strong corps of swans is entirely male. Yet Bourne did the same thing, albeit on a much smaller scale, in 1988, when he replaced the four ballerinas of Perrot's Pas de Quatre with four men. Predictably, the work is being labelled a gay Swan Lake. But for all its elegantly contained homo-eroticism it is, like its more traditional counterpart, a ballet about love and sexual awakening buffeted by the forces of good and evil. If anything, it is more disturbingly oedipal than prescriptively gay. The intriguingly dark and ambivalent relationship between Scott Ambler's unhappy Prince and Fiona Chadwick's domineering Queen first becomes apparent in the duet in Act 1 which has Ambler pawing at his mother's body and almost suffocating her. But the knife-edge of that relationship is to be fatally sharpened by Cooper's cruel and voracious leather-trousered stud who ravishes the sexually willing Queen under her son's nose.
Bourne's radically revised scenario updates the work to the late Fifties/ early Sixties .It boasts functional sets and lavish costumes by Lez Brotherston; and a full orchestra - the New London - conducted by David Lloyd-Jones. It's an unsparingly and intelligently modern reading, yet it remains uncannily true to the spirit - and even structure - of the Petipa-Ivanov ballet with which we are so familiar. Ivanov's so-called "white" acts become the Royal Park lakeside of Bourne's Act 1 and the cold, white, clinical horror of the Prince's nightmare in the final act, both inhabited by the flock of swans in their feathery plus-fours, their bare torsos glistening.
As for the "black" acts, Bourne has conceived a ballroom scene in which the choreography is a full and pertinent match for the drama and tragedy of Petipa's writing, but which also contains some delicious comic touches, as when Cooper makes his entrance at the party, almost devours Chadwick's hand as he kisses it, and then produces a riding crop - just to let us know he means business.
In his bedroom, the sleeping prince dreams of the Swan - his alter ego and protector? The bed is swivelled around so that its headboard becomes the crested balcony from which mother and son give the interminable royal wave. Bourne zips through the Prince's early years, neatly encapsulating the endless round of functions at which he accompanies his flirtatious mother and her scheming private secretary (Barry Atkinson), who appears to be the work's modern incarnation of the evil magician. Atkinson first destroys the Prince's attachment to an unsuitably tarty girlfriend and then engineers the terrifying triangular relationship between son, mother and Cooper's black leather "Swan".
Bourne knows exactly where he can allow for comedy in Tchaikovsky's music; instead of the pas de trois in Act 1 he offers butterflies and monsters, complete with a green lederhosen-wearing troll, watched by the Queen and her guests from the royal box. At times, the choreography flags - too much repetition, not enough variation - but it is never less than superbly performed, and Bourne's individual characterisations keep the story and the dancing rolling along.
As the Swan, Adam Cooper undulates and soars with all the poetic grace you'd expect, but it's his gate-crashing hard nut, which simply oozes sex, which is the real surprise of a thoroughly entertaining evening.
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