Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake Bristol Hippodrome:
Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, is an incredibly special piece of theatre. This was evidenced last night by one of the most roof-raising extended standing ovations I’ve probably ever seen in Bristol.
Photos: Johan Persson
I first wrote about this show in 1995ish. It was for a mock A Level Theatre Studies exam which I subsequently failed because I spent the three hours writing about Swan Lake instead of covering all of the questions. It’s one of those rare shows that entertains, inspires, breaks hearts and evokes great emotion.
I’ve seen this show a fair few times over the last couple of decades with lead dancers including Adam Cooper, Scott Ambler, Simon Cooper, Tom Ward, Chris Trenfield, Simon Williams, Jonathan Ollivier and Liam Mower.
Some of those dancers are no longer with us, but I can still recall the beauty of their performances. The nature of theatrical performances may be transient, but the impact dancers can have on the people watching them can be incredible and always remembered. Swan Lake as a story already has one foot in reality and one foot somewhere magical that loss both in the story and the real world is even more poignant.
Last night’s The Swan/The Stranger was danced by Will Bozier and The Prince by Dominic North. What an incredible performance from the pair. Dominic North’s vulnerable and yearning Prince with Bozier’s strong and powerful Swan created electricity and the Act Two Pas de Deux was a highlight.
Although it is The Prince and The Swan’s story, last night, I felt more than ever the real power behind every dancer’s performance coming together beside them.
Nicole Kabera’s repressed and angular Queen felt like it had danced right off Lez Brotherston’s page.
Katrina Lyndon as a warm and funny Girlfriend, who can’t do right for wrong kept the audience entertained throughout.
There was something high drama Ciarán Hinds about Glenn Graham’s The Private Secretary, a more imposing interpretation than I’ve seen before.
The ballet was originally hailed as groundbreaking for casting The Swans as men. All these years later, the idea still feels fresh. The choreography for the Swan ensemble was strong, dramatic and gripping. Hissing, angry birds filled the stage.
Although they are an ensemble, the birds have their individual personalities too. These shone through in the highly anticipated Dance of the Cygnets. Acting is a huge part of New Adventures productions and I reckon a seat close to the stage is well worth it.
If Matthew Bourne had lived in Bristol, his swans might have been one or two bad tempered creatures strutting about the stage pushing ducks out of the way. It wasn’t until I spent a lot of time in Paddington this year that I realised there is a peculiarly London element to his birds. The feral gangs of fighting, vicious and territorial swans in Hyde Park are completely different to what I know of swans in Bristol, and it was this nature which is recreated through his choreography with breathtaking beauty and accuracy.
I remember reading a theatre review in the 90’s which criticised the choreography in Act Two as being ‘limited’ and I’ve never understood this. Clearly, the reviewer had never tried to eat a sandwich near The Serpentine.
But it would be a mistake to think this is a ballet for the men. Without the passionate Princesses, there would be no guests for The Stranger to flirt with. There would be no Soho burlesque dancers, no bag lady, no Moth Maiden. Most of the comedy parts are performed by the female dancers.
There were some subtle changes with design elements and choreography for this production. My only gripe was losing some of the individual characters from The Swank Bar.
It’s a shame there isn’t a live orchestra for this ballet. The recording is OK but Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is a cracker, full of its own story and drama and something does feel lost in translation. The finer nuances, the connection. I love Brett Morris’ conducting. It’s full of oomph and I’m with the Girlfriend – it is definitely foot tapping and comes at a cracking pace.
I went to see this with my twelve-year-old who has Aspergers. I wish there were more Relaxed Performances in touring productions, but the Stalls FOH team at The Bristol Hippodrome were incredibly helpful. During applause, he turned to me a few times and whispered “wow” and “brilliant” and “so good”.
I know he would never have sat through a traditional Swan Lake and this is what makes Matthew Bourne ballets so brilliant. They reach people who might not ordinarily go to see dance. They tell stories, the narrative is always excellent. They have a cinematic feel. The characters are varied and representative. They are like the stories you want to tell young children at bedtime imagined on stage – funny, quirky and at times, a bit dark.
I have seen so much theatre during my life. I can confidently say this is one of the best shows you will ever see. It’s only in Bristol until Saturday 16 March 2019. You do not want to miss it.
For Bristol booking: atgtickets.com/Bristol
For Matthew Bourne and New Adventures: https://new-adventures.net/