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Swan Lake > Matthew Bourne’s wayward prince and rogue Odile January 31, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Ballet Dance Opera.

Director/choreographer explains his ‘Swan Lake’ take, opening tonight

 ‘Swan Lake’ opening tonight in Athens  ‘The white swan is an image the prince has had in his mind as one of flight, escape.’

Finishing touches were being made yesterday to the newly reconstructed Badminton Theater in Goudi for tonight’s Greek premiere of Matthew Bourne’s acclaimed production of “Swan Lake” which took the world by storm when it was first performed 12 years ago, surprising even its creator.

“I had no idea that we would still be doing it today and that it would become the phenomenon that it has become. It was originally going to be performed for just two weeks,” said Bourne at a press conference yesterday. “It’s true that when it was announced people couldn’t quite imagine what the swans would look like. I think a lot of people thought it was going to be men in tutus and on point, something like the Trocs. I think they thought the swans would be the funny part of the show, but when they appear is when it actually turns very serious.”

It wasn’t just the wide popularity of the show that surprised Bourne, but the fact that using males in the swan roles was what impressed the public and media most.

“My work is always narrative-based. It’s always about telling a story. I’m known as a director-choreographer and my dancers are as much actors as they are dancers. Having watched the classical version many times, I had started to see another story in it,” he explained. “It was something to do with the Prince and the Queen, a story that at that time (1995) with Prince Charles, Diana and the Queen, of course, was in the papers every day in Britain. It seemed to me that anyone who was Royal or had that spotlight put on them could not be the person they wanted to be. This seemed to be a very good subject for ‘Swan Lake.’ It’s essentially the same story, there’s a queen, worried about her son who seems not suited to royal life, a bit wayward. These are all elements of the classical version. I thought this was going to be the subject that the newspapers would pick up on when we opened. But the thing that really captured the imagination of the audiences and the press was the casting of the men as swans.”

Yet it is not an all-male “Swan Lake.” “It is often called the all-male ‘Swan Lake,’ but a third of the company are women, real women, not men in drag as has been suggested at times. The swans are male swans.” He said the main reason he used male swans was because he wanted to wipe away everyone’s images of what “Swan Lake” should look like.

“If I was going to tell a new story, the image of the swan had to change completely. I had to make the audience sit up and take notice.” Changing the images on stage was also a way of getting the audience to focus on the music, he added.

“Watching the classical version many times, I felt it was stopping the audience from hearing or seeing any more because the images went with the movement, the same images with the same music, so people weren’t really listening any more. By giving people different images, a different story, it makes you concentrate more on the music and get deeper into it.”

He noted Maurice Bejart’s observation back in the 1960s that a swan could be a very strong, aggressive creature, and a swan out of the water is a very different figure from one floating on the water.

“This was also something that inspired me to want to create male swans for this piece. For me as a storyteller it also set up so many interesting ideas psychologically. It became a study of what is going on in the prince’s mind. It came to represent something to him, the freedom, the wildness, the beauty. Something he almost wanted to be. In my mind it started a new story developing there,” explained Bourne.

“For me, the white swan is an image he has had in his mind since he was an innocent child, as we show at the beginning of the piece, an image of flight, escape from his royal life.”

The role of Odile, the black swan in the classical version, has been replaced by a male stranger, a gatecrasher at the ball.

“What the prince sees in this person is something that he’s seen in the image of the swan all his life. This person is wild, free, he does what he likes. The prince feels attracted to him, that’s why it’s important to the story. Because of who he is the prince can’t really come to terms with that, and that’s what starts his mental breakdown.”

Asked whether this is a gay “Swan Lake” Bourne explained: “It is a difficult question. Male swans themselves are just male swans, there is nothing gay about them as such. Also it’s been called homo-erotic, well, yes it is, because there a lot of men on stage with bare chests looking very beautiful and dancing with power and beauty, but that is as appealing to women as it is to gay men, or anyone actually. Where you could say it becomes a gay ballet has to do with the prince who is male and the swan. Initially the relationship is not straightforward. It’s two men, but one of them is this creature, a swan. So it’s not completely clear what’s going on. I would suggest that in Act III it does turn sexual for the prince, but only a long way into the piece, it’s not clear-cut. I wouldn’t like it to be labeled in that way. But I’m not denying that that’s part of the story that’s told in this piece.”

Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake,” at the Badminton Theater, tonight through Sunday, February 11 (except Monday, February 5). Performances at 9 p.m. and at 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The Swan/The Stranger is danced alternately by Thomas Whitehead and Alan Vincent, the Prince by Simon Williams and Chris Mahoney, the Queen by Saranne Curtin and Nina Goldman. Tickets at Virgin Megastores and www.ticketnet.gr, tel 210 8840600.

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