The advertising is arresting: a kneeling, nude man caresses a swan whose neck sinuously curves into the first letter of Swan Lake. The actual production of the great Russian classic by the British contemporary company Adventures in Motion Pictures is even more thought-provoking, an update on tradition filled with wit and caricatures of royals-we-know and a bevy of male swans. Far from being drag ballerinas, these swans are strong, powerful, and aggressive male creatures. Alternative views of the classics are nothing new to AMP, In 1992 the company's talented artistic director and choreographer, Matthew Bourne, presented a zany Nutcracker set in a Dickensian orphanage and what he called Sweetie Land. In 199A he made Highland Fling, a retelling of La Sylphicle set in a depressing tenement building in today's Glasgow with a hallucinating James in a leather jacket.
Now, as supposedly his last dip into the classical repertoire, Bourne has turned his hand to that holiest of Russian ballet icons, Swan Lake. He has retained a tragic ending but wrenched the work into the present, focusing on the insecurity of the Prince (Scott Ambler) and his relationship with his undemonstrative mother (Fiona Chadwick, a former principal with the Royal Ballet). To the confused Prince, The Swan, as he is simply called (Adam Cooper, also of the Royal), signifies freedom and majesty and embodies the antipathy of his own poor mother-pecked self. A reluctant royal, he longs to flee the suffocation of the court.
Cooper dances the Swan with a style that dismisses any criticism of remaking the principal role for a man. Bare-chested, barefoot, and wearing knee-length feathered leggings, he moves with controlled grace, his sculptured body eloquently interpreting Bourne's vision. Cooper's dancing and that of his bird brothers is powerful, the steps hinting at the original choreography but accented with virile spiraling torsos that fill the music with equal grandeur. The little swans, heard offstage long before being seen, make a snazzy quartet, each trying to outdance the other, while elsewhere the bigger swans stretch to full height, chests puffed, then dive downward before leaping furiously across the stage in displays of macho bravura.
With just one intermission, the ballet fairly zips along. Bourne has a genius for detail and endows the ballet with many humorous moments. He follows the dictates of the Tchaikovsky score (David Lloyd-Jones conducts the superb New London Orchestra) but offers different images: Lez Brotherston's imaginative costumes and decor give the court a vaguely fifties feel (with Chadwick dressed to resemble the young Queen Elizabeth II); Act One's usual peasant dance turns into a parade of uniformed maids and manservants attending to the Prince's toilet; and the Pas de Trois is a hilarious takeoff on romantic ballet, complete with gawky fairies, butterflies, and a solid woodcutter who looks like Benny Hill in tights.
In the ballroom scene Cooper, dressed in black leather pants, shirt, and frock coat, gate-crashes the ball by walking perilously along the balustrade on the balcony. He oozes sensuality, magnetizing not only the Prince but all the foreign princesses and especially the Queen, who succumbs to his charms with disastrous consequences for all concerned.
Bourne has not sought to denigrate the purist's vision of Swan Lake. Rather, he has carefully molded the contemporary onto the classical framework to produce a ballet for today that is both witty and emotionally moving. It's also great fun.
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|Title Annotation:||Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, England|
|Article Type:||Dance Review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 1996|
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