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Swan Lake.

Tchaikovsky is probably too busy hoisting the rainbow flag to turn over in his grave. Last fall's most improbable London West End hit, Matthew Bourne's full-length Swan Lake roosts for eight weeks beginning April 22 at the Los Angeles Music Center's Ahmanson Theatre in its only American engagement this year. It's the stateside debut for the company, which its resourceful founding artistic director and choreographer has whimsically named Adventures in Motion Pictures. And a lifetime of attending dance performances win not prepare you for the storytelling brilliance, penetrating musically, and deeply homoerotic vision.

Just how popular was this Swan Lake among sophisticated London theatergoers? Consider that it opened for a limited engagement in 1995 and toured the United Kingdom for ten weeks, then reopened for a commercial run last September, packing the enormous Piccadilly Theatre for six months, and subsequently aired on BBC 2 television. The show snagged seven awards, including the prestigious Olivier award and a couple from Britain's gay press. And even if you go to scoff, you can't help emerging from the experience (as this writer did in November) profoundly stirred by its emotional resonance and narrative ingenuity. A capacity audience--of gays and straights--responded with a roar and a standing ovation.

What's all the fuss about? In outline, Bourne followed the story of the second staging of the ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1895, the version audiences are familiar with today. A prince pursues his amorous instincts and desire for fulfillment and finds himself obsessed with enchanted white and black swans, and it does not end well at all. Bourne, however, substitutes mime and eclectic modem dance vocabulary for the tutus and pointe forays of ballet. He transplants the narrative from medieval Germany to contemporary, amoral, sex-crazed London, and--the most startling of innovations--he recasts the swans as men.

No, this is definitely not a camping trip, like something you might expect from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. These swans are most assuredly men--sleek, buffed, muscular men, trailing feathered leggings--and they are forces of nature that unleash the prince's true sexual identity. His first duet with the swan may take you places you have never been. Comes the engagement party, and Bourne's surrogate for the black swan arrives at the ball in shiny black leather, oozing testosterone, hair moussed to within an inch of its life--one of the most stunning entrances you'll ever see in the theater.

Bourne changes other details too. The queen mother, who customarily stands around beaming at the prince, now competes with her son for the swan's affection. The six princesses have become one--a sympathetic but uncomprehending woman. Bourne sets one scene in an ambisexual cabaret, and he can't resist a hilarious side trip to one of those icky 19th-century butterfly-ballet divertissements (exquisite designs by Lez Brotherston) that his own work seems to render so irrelevant. And the ending offers a psychological satisfaction one never got from the Bolshoi or the Kirov.

This company's Swan Lake has made a superstar of the Royal Ballet's sensational Adam Cooper (who in February resigned from that rigid institution so that he could appear in the American tour). Cooper will alternate as the Odette/Odile figure in Los Angeles with Bourne's discovery, 20-year-old William Kemp, a slightly gentler, more ambiguous swan. Canadian-born Lynn Seymour has come out of semiretirement to dance the mother (alternating with another discovery, Isabel Mortimer); it may be a new generation's only opportunity to see this genuine legend of dance.

Bourne's staging will leave everybody with one question: Given Tchaikovsky's gay orientation, is this the Swan Lake he really had in mind?
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Title Annotation:Ahmanson Theater, Los Angeles, California
Author:Ulrich, Allan
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Apr 29, 1997
Words:600
Previous Article:GLAAD tidings.
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