Making a splash: Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake returns to Theatre Royal Newcastle
More than two decades after it glided onto the stage for the first time and Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake still makes a captivating splash.
Both menacing and beautiful in equal measure, it’s a tour-de-force that ruffled the feathers of the dance world on its debut with its male corps de ballet who are far removed from the delicate tutu wearers of the original Swan Lake.
This is a more visceral world where the swans hiss, stamp and masterfully arch their backs as though their sharp shoulder blades were wings in a magical fusion of avian moves and contemporary dance.
Prior to meeting this most macho of troupes, however, we are cordially invited to enter the Royal Household where a lost prince (played with boyish charm by one of the original Billy Elliots, Liam Mower) is looking for love.
The weight of the royal title is on his slight shoulders, as is the expectations of his mother, played with elegant frostiness by Nicole Kabera.
A glimmer of hope comes in the form of his pretty-in-pink puffball skirt-wearing girlfriend, played with effervescence by Katrina Lyndon, who brings some light relief and a splash of colour amidst the more dark, nightmarish scenes.
Bourne fans will be well accustomed to the choreographer’s cheeky injections of humour, which also comes in the form of a bored, burlesque dancer who really tickles ribs with his unenthusiastic hip thrusts in the Swanky nightclub scene.
After being papped being thrown out of said nightclub all seems lost for The Prince who finds himself forlorn on a park bench and contemplating death. Cue The Swan.
Max Westwell is a powerful presence on stage. Physically, he’s probably the most muscular of dancers I’ve seen in the role, which ramps up the imposing magnitude of The Swan. Yet, still he manages to leap through the air with a graceful, feather-light landing.
He’s joined by his feral herd who are intoxicating to watch as they move with stunning fluidity to Tchaikovsky’s iconic score.
The Swan embodies the freedom the prince so desperately longs for and the sensual pas de deux between wild beast and trapped man is beautifully played out, injecting The Prince with the confidence to finally spread his wings.
Westwell returns stripped of his feathers and clad in leather as The Stranger in Act III for the Royal Ball where he plays the malleable prince like a violin, switching from carnal desire to rejection with electrifying ease.
He ramps up the sexual tension by reeling in the female guests too, sending The Prince’s mental health into a spiral of dark descent.
We next see him in a stark hospital where clever use of lighting echoes the shadows that haunt his mind, with his emotionally-numb mother still unable to show him compassion before he is released home.
The bubbling tension between the two male leads (which is still unusual to see in the ballet all these years later) culminates in a voracious final scene in which the herd go wild, turning on The Swan just as he gives The Prince the tender embrace he so longed for. It’s a swan song finale that will leave you with bristling goose bumps. Or should that be swan bumps.
•Swan Lake is at Theatre Royal, Newcastle, until May 18.