Swan Lake by Matthew Bourne. At the Regent Theatre, Collins Street, until April 29.
All the swans are men, true, but let's get one thing straight: Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake is no travesty. This isn't Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo; there are no tight tights and there's very little mincing. These are definitely straight-acting boys -- barefoot and bare chested in their shaggy shorts -- whatever their sexual inclinations.
IMAGE © MATTHEW BOURNE'S SWAN LAKE
Yes, Bourne's mummy's boy Prince (Simon Williams) decides his ideal chick has a bit more meat on the bone than the average wannabe queen, but he stars in a ballet with enormous commercial appeal. Young and old, male and female, gay and straight, balletomaniacs and first-time balletgoers will get plenty from it. This is a clever and often rip-roaringly funny ballet. And, best of all, it's quite the sexiest Swan since Warwick Capper.
In look and concept, it's remarkably like the work Graeme Murphy was creating for Sydney Dance Company twenty-five years ago. Choreographically, it's conservative; psychologically it's rich; morally, it's kinky. As an adaptation, it's less contrived than it is profound.
Instead of falling for a white swan and getting conned into protesting his love for the black swan, Bourne's modern-day Prince -- who is dating the commonest of commoners (the dishy and deliciously funny Nina Goldman) -- falls in love with a hairy-chested bloke (Alan Vincent). (In the third act, we get to see the Evil Parallel Universe version of our swan, in leather pants and dress coat no less... He's very impressive!)
The Baron Von Rothbart in Bourne's version is the Prince's attendant, danced by the saturnine Ashley Bain. He's one part Dr Freud, one part Dr Coppelius. He's contemptuous of his charge's need for affection and he cruelly tricks him.
The first shadowy glimpse we get of the flock is through a scrim. The Prince has been beaten up in a bar and has fled to a nearby park. Full credit to Bourne, the swans seem utterly alien. Otherworldly. Supernatural. Extraordinary. We're as captivated and amazed by them as the Prince is.
And that, finally, is what makes this a mighty Swan Lake. Something familiar -- something overly familiar -- has been transformed into something thrillingly new. It doesn't matter how often you've seen Swan Lake or how many different versions you've seen of it -- Murphy's or Dolin's or Mats Ek's or Kevin McKenzie's -- or even if you've never seen it at all...
This review was published in the Herald Sun on Friday April 13, 2007.