Monday, October 13, 2014

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, Esplanade, 11 Oct 2014

It's time for the da:ns festival again in Singapore! They've consistently brought in stellar productions year on year (e.g. Sylvie Guillem, Paris Opera Ballet), and this time was no exception, with Matthew Bourne hitting the Singapore stage for the first time.

Bourne's Swan Lake is incredibly far from the original. I've only seen one other Bourne piece, Play Without Words, which struck me most for its layered complexity and depth. As such I was surprised at the amount of levity and humour in his Swan Lake, from the outright fumbling of the Girlfriend, to subtle eye-rolls of the dog walker. Yet, the piece is anything but superficial. While it may start with a good dose of slapstick humour, it follows the Prince to some dark places indeed in his battle against depression.

In fact, the piece was unexpectedly reminiscent of Mayerling. Much like Rudolph, this Prince lacks his mother's love, and tries to make up for it in similar ways such as wielding a gun and shooting an innocent bystander. The temptations of Odette and Odile are no longer about simple fairy-tale love, but are instead opposing sides of sanity. As Odette, the magnificent Jonathan Ollivier draws Siegfried away from suicide in a beautiful rendition of the white swan pas de deux. I had originally seen this in isolation as part of the recent Deloitte Ignite Moved By Myth (with Ed Watson as the Swan and Liam Mower as the Prince), and had mistaken it as straightforward homoeroticism. But rather than flirting with the Swan, I see the Prince is instead flirting with Reason.

Ollivier's Odile is even more alluring. He is steamy, sensual, and I love the cavalier way he enters the ball from the balcony. His wild, devilish seduction is the perfect counterpoint to the earnest Odette that eventually sacrifices himself for the Prince's eternal peace.

The best part about the piece for me was Bourne's fantastic use of the music. It's as if Tchaikovsky finally found what he was writing for, and you wonder what on earth Petipa was choreographing to all the while before. Bourne leverages the transitions in the music so appropriately, such that I can't imagine any other use of an upbeat segment in Act 2 but for a disco jive, and such that the stolen moments between Odile and the Prince at the ball truly feel like private segues Tchaikovsky wrote just for them.

Unfortunately however, the steps of the choreography just aren't my cup of tea. Despite how well thought out every detail is, the word "tawdry" kept coming to mind. I'm sure I'm just too uppity, or far too used to the classical Swan Lake, but I found the steps predictable, and oftentimes rather untidy. As good as the corps is, the costumes do them no justice as each white tassle shivers with every slight imbalance. Every head tick and arm flick is uncannily swan-like, yes, but I found an excess of it to cheapen the grandeur of the imposing corps. The couples' dancing in Act 3 was also too blandly lascivious, with hip gyrations so overused they came off hackneyed. I found that, as with Play Without Words, I much prefer the direction (if that's the right term) of the piece to his steps -- such as the emergence of the swans from under the Prince's bed, or the play with shadows and masks as the Queen and her lackeys visit the Prince in prison.

Thus on balance, it's back to Petipa for me. The audience loved it though, and the night ended in many curtain calls and ovations.

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