The 18 years since the first performance of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake have seen changes to the social and legal environment for homosexual relationships.  There is still plenty of prejudice among some people, but the open portrayal of a same sex relationship on stage lacks the power to shock the sort of audience that goes to Sadler’s Wells today.  All the more credit then to Matthew Bourne, for a creation that still stands as a strong dramatic dance work, and which tells a story on two levels; the narrative and the psychological.

Although I find the opening scene in the Prince’s bedroom with its humorous pastiche of court protocol lightweight and slightly irritating, structurally it is an effective starting point from which to show the emotional collapse of the Prince (convincingly played by Sam Archer).  The show improves as it builds inexorably towards the tragic climax.  Michaela Meazza’s powerful Queen was cold but sensuous, glamourous and moving, while Jonathan Ollivier as the Swan / Stranger was dangerous and threatening, using every gesture to stamp his authority on the Royal Ball, leaving a trail of havoc behind him.  The other stars of the show were the thoroughly masculine corps de ballet of swans, and the orchestra conducted by Brett Morris.  There is nothing tired about this production; the performance was energetic, thrilling and danced with style and panache.

Swan Lake continues at Sadler’s Wells until 26 January, and Oxford audiences will have the chance to catch it from 13 – 16 May at the Wycombe Swan

Maggie Watson

16 January 2014