Glittering cygnet ring

The much-celebrated, all-male version of Swan Lake comes back for another encore
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The Independent Culture

When Matthew Bourne's all-male Swan Lake premiered at Sadler's Wells in 1995, with Scott Ambler as the Prince, it caused a bit of a stir. "I remember the first night," Bourne says. "When the male swans first came on, there was a gasp in the audience - because it worked. It had a seriousness about it that many were not expecting. They were shocked by the masculinity, the violence, aggressiveness and power of the swans, and their beauty."

When Matthew Bourne's all-male Swan Lake premiered at Sadler's Wells in 1995, with Scott Ambler as the Prince, it caused a bit of a stir. "I remember the first night," Bourne says. "When the male swans first came on, there was a gasp in the audience - because it worked. It had a seriousness about it that many were not expecting. They were shocked by the masculinity, the violence, aggressiveness and power of the swans, and their beauty."

Bourne has productions of Swan Lake and Mary Poppins opening within a week of each other. Swan Lake won him the Tony award for best director and best choreographer of a musical in 1999, and it featured in Stephen Daldry's film Billy Elliot. The production was shown on BBC2 on Boxing Day 1997 and had a 17-week stint on Broadway in 1998. There have been a total of about 850 performances worldwide.

How does it feel to have created a modern-day classic? "It feels strange that my production is seen as so important," says Bourne. "It's certainly a historical piece - it's now mentioned in encyclopaedias."

What gave the choreographer the idea for his sassy version of the classic Tchai-kovsky ballet? "It was something that built up over time. Having seen the ballet many times, I thought there was another story in there," says Bourne. "It was a period when newspapers were full of stories about Princess Diana, Camilla and Fergie. The simple story of the prince having to marry a suitable princess seemed topical."

In the second act of Bourne's version, the black swan is a hunk called the Stranger who arrives at the ball wearing black leather trousers. Bourne's production also has a gut-wrenching emotional ending. "That surprised people," Bourne says. "Many people in the audience were in floods of tears. At the time it was almost naff to express your emotions. People were responding to feeling big emotions in a big way. We made no excuses for it in the ballet."

Having started dancing at the age of 22, Bourne's final performance as a dancer came in January 1999, in the Broadway production of Swan Lake. By then, he had already turned his focus to choreography. He was artistic director of Adventures in Motion Pictures from 1987 until 2002, when he launched his New Adventures company, as a vehicle for his future independent work. In the summer of last year, he premiered the now Olivier award-winning Play Without Words and a new production of Nutcracker! followed.

Does he miss dancing? "Not really. I stopped dancing at the age of 39. I loved it, but I was very satisfied with the amount of performing I had managed to do. Now I live through the performances I create. I am very happy."

'Swan Lake', Birmingham Hippodrome (0870 730 1234) 22-27 November; Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (020-7863 8000) 30 Nov to 16 Jan

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