Friday, 15 December 2017

Brawn and brawl in gay ballet tale

DIRECTOR Matthew Bourne doesn’t like the fact this production is dubbed the “All-male Swan Lake” and points out that there are lots of great women dancers in it. He also shies away from the other nickname it’s acquired — the “Gay Swan Lake” — since it first turned the ballet world upside down at its début 18 years ago. After watching it again at a jam-packed Wycombe Swan this week there is no doubt that it’s a production that belongs to the men, and it’s definitely gay. Bourne should be proud of that.

The story of the prince who falls in love with a beautiful swan on a night hunt is utterly transformed with a 21st century twist. In this version the swan is not a bone-china delicate girl in a white tutu and satin pumps but a barefoot, bare-chested hunk.

Chris Trenfield defines his swan nature with shaggy white pants and a warrier-like black strip daubed on his forehead. And he means business. There’s no elegant coquettishness to his dances with the prince. With slo-mo flicks of the head and chunky, arm-flinging choreography his swan is all sinewy masculine aggression. There are moments when, his chest shiny with sweat, his pas de deux with Simon Williams’ prince could be scenes straight out of a San Francisco bath house.

Tweaks have been made to the original choreography and this time round the mood seemed more sombre. There were still great comedy moments and plenty of inventive touches — the night hunt takes place in a city park rather than beside a mountain lake, and the seedy night club scene is all urban brawn and brawl. But the overall mood is that of a tortured young gay man trapped by his conventional upbringing.

There are purists out there who don’t like what Matthew Bourne has done with ballet and prefer the arm-fluttering, all lace and men-in-hose version. But set to Tchaikovsky’s original score, this is still an impossibly beautiful and romantic tale.

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