Review BH Swan Lake 2014
Ballet de corp boys
Gosh I can’t believe I am saying this but Swan Lake at the Bristol Hippodrome this week is a mix of homoeroticism and humour but then the choreographer is Matthew Bourne.
Oh boy a threatening chorus line of male swans – it will make you view the wildlife at Backwell lake somehow differently.
The show feels like Dangerous Liaisons meets Dirty Dancing played out against a backdrop of Shadowlands.
Two refined elderly ladies sitting behind me had earlier been discussing best practice to get your seat past a row of already seated incumbents.
One was overheard saying: “I used to know the etiquette of whether you did it face-to-face or offered your bottom.”
I couldn’t help but smile and cheekily I turn round at the end of the performance and asked: “How was it for you?”
The reply in cut-glass diction was: “It is Swan Lake as we have never seen it before but we liked it.”
Not so the sad soul walking po-faced up the aisle muttering ‘there was too much going on’ to his equally miserable looking middle-aged wife.
So that’s a sell-out theatre ‘for’ and two ‘against’.
Let me tell you it was tremendous – I was transfixed in wonderment, my cup of emotions runneth over and judging by the number of curtain calls this broad-minded provincial audience totally agreed.
It is an understatement to say this isn’t strictly ballet in the conventional sense because there are no up-on-your-tippy-toes pointes.
It is best described as energetic dance theatre par excellence.
How best to describe Mr Bourne’s production to minors I am not sure despite according to the programme it being part of the schools exam syllabus but best that no-one tells the sanctimonious education secretary Michael Gove in case he deems it subversive.
The film of Swan Lake in 3D has a PG rating so probably same for stage show.
Swan Lake opens with the prince (English National Ballet principal Simon Williams) reclining on his kingsize bed being attended to by a gaggle of royal servants.
The lead dancers rotate the star roles and on opening night it was Chris Trenfield who took the dual part as the powerful and passionate Swan/Stranger.
Returning after a career break Saranne Curtin who
trained at the Rambert School plays The Queen who vacillates from haughty highness and stickler for court protocol to flighty cougar flaunting her sexuality with the dark Stranger. But as a mother she fails miserably and only becomes tactile when overcome by grief.
This cold demeanour somewhat reflects the public’s perception of our royal family and the prince is a dead ringer for Prince William.
The inappropriate girlfriend with the funny facial expressions is danced by the brilliant Anjaili Mehra whose down-to-earth character could have done with a few lessons in good manners from aforementioned ladies sitting in stalls.
The amazing corps de ballet swans wear feathered pantaloons that expose chest and stomach muscles and instead of the usual half hat halo sport stark black beaks drawn on closely cropped crowns. All the swans use accentuated neck and arm gestures and arch their backs in silhouette to display wild animalistic movements.
This is a contemporary masterclass which makes you chuckle and balk and brings you to the brink of tears but mostly it entertains.
The dancers prance around in tight leather trousers, wave horse whips and go downtown to a seedy nightclub called Swank - with the letters spelt out for emphasis on the four in lower case - all to the loud and lusty music by Tchaikovsky.
Then in tender moments the macho men embrace and weave across the stage as one.
I am not sure how much of this review will get past the censor and/or profanity filter but by now you’ll get the idea that this 20-year old production challenges the conventional storytelling of Swan Lake and takes you on a pleasure rush.
The costumes, lighting and scenery are superb - a feast for the soul.
Darcey Bussell would be sure to give it 10, I’ll go over-the-top and give it 110.
The show plays until Saturday, May 24 – miss it at your peril.
Look and learn how to fly again next week at the Hippodrome when the cast of Fame take to the stage.