Review: Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake in 3-D | NCM Fathom | Angelika Film Center & Cafe

Feather Weight

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, seen in 3-D in movie theaters Tuesday, brilliantly transforms the classic ballet from delicate to dangerous.

published Wednesday, March 21, 2012

If your idea of Swan Lake involves a delicate Swan Queen and a bevy of quivering swans, you are in for a shock with Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. No, his version, performed live at Sadler’s Wells last year in London and filmed for 3-D distribution and shown in movie theaters on Tuesday via NCM Fathom, is testosterone-filed and harrowing from start to finish, with its cold and conniving court and menacing male swans.

The ballet was a sensation when first performed in London’s West End in 1995 and a huge hit on tour in the U.S. a year later. 

Now viewed up close, it is even more shocking. The buzz-cut swans, eyes rimmed with black and foreheads streaked in black to suggest beaks, swarm with the ferocity of dangerous beasts. Our view is so close up that we can hear their heavy breathing and see the glistening sweat on their bare chests. 

Some of the shock value comes from the setting: the English court of the '60s and disco era of the '70s. Intrigue, corruption, decadence and jockeying for position comprise only part of the hostile environment; a cold and sexually avid Queen provides yet more frissons. 

And then there is the Swan. As performed by Richard Winsor, he is very much an animal, aggressive and sexual when first confronting the Prince in a park. They dance with an edgy eagerness, shifting weight with fluid, expansive lifts that break apart in a flurry of avenging swans. 

The encounter—with all its danger and excitementoffers the Prince his first opportunity to break free from his shackles. He leaves giddy with excitement. 

But when the Swan—transformed into a sinister Strangerinvades the court, his effect on the Prince changes dramatically. Dominating and impervious, the Stranger takes hold of the entire party, pulling everyone into his seductive grasp from Prince, party goers, and most tellingly, the elegant Queen. The Queen all but swoons. The tension is palpable, the mood frenetic, and the Prince is left confused and desperate.

Back in his huge, empty room, the Prince restlessly fights off the demons in his sleep, only to have the swans emerge from under his bed. This time, the power shifts, with the swans attacking Prince and Swan until the Swan, all bloody, dies, followed by the Prince. Of all the Swans and Princes to die in all the many productions of Swan Lake, this one made you weep. 

Bourne’s Swan Lake reinvents the Romantic era for the modern age, giving it the intensity, foreboding and sense of the unattainable that is almost unimaginable in this jaded age. Black Swan offered melodrama; this Swan Lake offered theater at its best. 

◊ Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.

 Thanks For Reading


Mattyq writes:
Wednesday, March 21 at 4:12PM

I too was overwhelmed by this production last night at the Cinemark 17 off of Webb Chapel and 635. Having been a fan of Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker!, my expectations were high. Although I am only a budding enthusiast, I was completely mesmerized along with the rest in attendance. The performances were top-notch, the visuals impressive and the end was electrifying. The passion came through the performance and I was truly moved by this interpretation.

Elizabeth writes:
Thursday, March 22 at 8:43PM

This production was breathtaking. I left Woodlands, Oldsmar Cinema still trying to absorb all that I had experienced. I wasn't sure what to expect, I've only seen the "pretty" productions of Swan Lake, but I want to see more of this.

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Feather Weight
Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, seen in 3-D in movie theaters Tuesday, brilliantly transforms the classic ballet from delicate to dangerous.
by Margaret Putnam

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