on 5 August 2005
Nothing anyone else will say about it is going to prepare you for this amazing ballet. I just wish I had seen it live! Having the DVD is some consolation, though. No ballet I have ever seen comes close to the emotional intensity this performance evokes: it makes me laugh and it makes me cry (and sometimes both at the same time). Adam Cooper is unparalleled in portraying the subject of a love-starved boy's fantasy; at once ethreal and earthly, at times soaring so high you find yourself holding your breath and at times earth-bound and accessible. His sexy alter-ego is no less compelling to the prince (or the viewer). He simply takes your breath away. It is, without a doubt, one of comtemporary dance's greatest triumphs - a truly inspiring piece.
Hold on to your lids, kids, a traditional Swan Lake this is not. Matthew Bourne, probably Britain's greatest contemporary choreographer, has reset the old and great ballet into a tale of British royal satire, repressed sexuality and just plain human longing for comfort and protection. And if you've heard about this version, it is definitely not all male; there are plenty of female dancers around. The Swan Queen, however, is now The Swan King. The corps de ballet who form The Swan King's court, traditionally delicate swan maidens in white tutus, are now bare-chested, muscular male swans with mean, dark-shadowed eyes, twitching heads and hair combed to a dark point down their foreheads. They wear something like feathered leggings from waist to knee.
The traditional Swan Lake story has the young prince encountering an enchanted princess, human by night, a swan by day, who can only have the spell broken by true love. The prince swears his devotion, but is tricked by the sorcerer into thinking another is The Swan Queen. He realizes his mistake, but it's too late. He rushes to the lake, finds The Swan Queen and joins her in death but reunited in love.
In Bourne's version it is Britain in the Fifties. We meet the young prince as a fearful child, dominated by his unfeeling mother, the Queen, and manipulated by the Queen's evil press secretary. The lonely boy finds comfort only by imagining a brave swan who will protect him and look over him. Ten years later the prince still is dominated by his mother, who has scarcely aged. He thinks he loves a young woman who is considered unsuitable by the Queen. She announces she will hold a ball and introduce him to proper candidates. Eventually in a drunken, repressed rage, he finds himself on the shores of a park lake. As in a dream he encounters The Swan King and the King's court of male swans. The ball is held, but the press secretary introduces the Queen to his own son, who looks just like The Swan King. The Queen announces she will marry him. The prince strikes his mother, he is confined and apparently operated on. In a delirium he encounters the real Swan King again, who protects him from the male swans who have appeared around his bed. The end of the ballet has the Prince dead on the floor. The Swan King stands high above the bed, holding in his arms the body of the Prince as a child.
The two great dance set pieces are the divertissement of the second act, where the Prince meets the Swan King and the male swans, and the Queen's Ball where all the manipulations and angst come to a head. If nothing else, the divertissement is worth the price of the disc. This is choreography and dance of the highest order. Tchaikovsky's music, so well-known and so great, has never seemed fresher. At times playing against political satire, at other times playing against a completely revisionist view of what a corps de ballet should be, the lush, romantic music turns out to be a wonderful counterpoint to Bourne's muscular choreography.
While one can argue (I would) that the ballet is as much about the Prince's repressed sexuality as it is his loneliness, this aspect is understated. The ballet is full of prostitutes, paparazzi, sailors and princesses on the make. The Queen bears a resemblance, perhaps unintentional, to a Joan Collins-like woman who keeps boy toys amongst her palace guard. The palace ball reeks of casual, corrupt omni-sexuality.
Adam Cooper dances The Swan King. He's a handsome, tough-looking guy who carries off the part with style. Scott Ambler dances The Prince and is just as good. The DVD's picture and audio are first-rate. There is an informative insert which includes an interview with Matthew Bourne. I recommend this disc highly for those who like ballet, Tchaikovsky, great choreography and great dancing -- and who might appreciate a startling new look at things.
on 7 March 2002
This is a triumph of dance and drama. The whole thing has me mesmerised each time I watch it. It has humour and evokes feelings of sadness and sympathy for the characters. Adam Cooper is superb as the swan and his dance is breath taking, representing perfectly the power and beauty of this wonderful bird. His performance as the evil doppleganger is equally as impressive, as he dirty dances his way into the queens affections. It is always Adam Cooper who is highlighted in these reviews, however Scott Ambler as the prince should not be forgotton. He mixes drama with dance perfectly and without his performance as the weak, shy, loveless prince who simply wants love and affection this production would be nothing. This is a wonderful production that stays with you long after you have finished watching it.
on 20 September 2011
I just love this work from Matthew Bourne. I saw it live in 2005 when it returned to Sadlers Wells and am disappointed that I missed Adam Cooper originating the role in the late 1990s. The concept of using all-male swans does indeed (as noted by another reviewer) give the male dancers a chance to shine in a work which traditionally sidelines the men as a prop for their dazzling female partners. Scott Ambler as the Prince is a very strong actor and (despite his fears when creating the production) holds his own alongside Adam Cooper's sublime performance. Cooper's Swan is majestic, graceful and brooding yet strangely vulnerable - a real treat. However, for me his Stranger is the more compelling part of the performance; an arrogant, sexy predator who commands the stage effortlessly and draws the eye.
This is one DVD I will re-watch again and again.
on 13 September 2006
I loved the live show. It is an interesting and unique interpretation of a great classic. I very much respect Matthew Bourne's work. The "swan" choreography is great. Adam Cooper dances beautifully. I was however frustrated with the composition / production of the DVD. I was constantly annoyed by the close ups that would cut into a wonderful flow of steps or the graceful patterns evolving in the choreography. In my opinion filming shots for ballet should never be smaller than the whole form of the body. In ballet the expressiveness is a whole body communication and therefore close up shots of faces is loosing part of the overall drama. It feels disjointed and I found it difficult to be swept away with the dance as I was in the theatre.
on 12 November 2010
I just loved this ballet. Amazing how creative talent can transform a classical ballet into a very different story by using male dancers as swans. It really helps to read the attached synopsis before you watch the video, then you will really get into the story
on 15 September 2002
If you ever thought Swan Lake was 'pretty to watch' but, ultimately incomprehensible, if you wanted a bigger kick than either Nureyev or Fonteyn could offer, if you'dont like' ballet then this is for YOU. If [you]have empathy with the tragedy of Love, Prejudice and Duty displacing Truth then this is a DVD you a <B>must buy</B>. Mathew Bourne and his company have created the ultimate interpretation of Tchaikovsky's heart rending score. If you sometimes fear to listen to the music in company or daren't play 'The Pathetique' unless alone, this is for you. Brilliant cinematography, capturing the ambience of the live performance almost perfectly, there is nothing in the canon of contemporary interpretations which comes close to this.
on 24 March 2007
I watched a live performance of this Swan Lake last month and left the theater with mixed emotions. I was exhilarated by the whole concept, but somewhat disappointed with the choreography itself. I thought perhaps it was the fault of the dancers, so I bought the dvd with the original performers. Well, my opinion is still unchanged. This is a great show, but not a great ballet work.
Matthew Bourne re-interprets the classic "swan lake" story in a very subtle and imaginative way. His probbing into the soul of a hurt, dominated, rejected and (possibly) homosexual young man is brilliant. He utilizes themes that already exist in the story (the prince's reluctancy to marry, his mother's demand that he complies with customary behaviour,) but shifts the focus, to create something entirely new and modern. What's more, Bourne even maintains most of the structure of the classic choreographhy. The Act 2 Adagio is still a pas-de-deux for the prince and his Swan, the four little swans get to do their piece, etc. Yet, his choreography is neither traditional, nor modern. It's something in-between, -a timid mixture of classic ballet and contemprary-dance, often resembling some Broadway-musical type of work.
But then, this whole thing was conceived as a West End performance. Since it has by now achieved a somewhat "legendary" status, we are perhaps inclined to judge it by standards that may have little to do with Bourne's original intentions.
This may indeed explain the way the performance was filmed, -which has proven disappointing to some other (re)viewers. True, there is a tendency for close-ups, which in a (classic) ballet performance are ususally distracting, as the viewer can not actually follow the choreography. I have a feeling, though, that the choreography is second to the drama in this case, therefore the cinematographers' choice may have been appropriate. We get more detail here. Several thing that we guessed, or "suspected" in the theater, become clear when watching the dvd.
There are, of course, some shortcomings as well. In the Bar scene, we do not get the ensemble effect of the '60s "shake" dance (I was amazed at how brilliantly this matched, and contrasted at the same time, Tchaikovsky's music in the theater.) In Act 2 the movement of the swans seems a bit muddled, but that is the overall feeling I got from the theatrical performance as well. Their appearance in the last scene was definitely more effective in the theater, but I'm not sure if that has to do with the filming, or with the nature of the medium itself. I'm afraid there's really no way to capture the thrill of a "live" performance on film.
All in all, I'd say that the filming is quite good, though I may not agree totally with some of the film-makers' choices.
Finally, the dancers. The "ensemble" (should we call them "corps-de-ballet"?) are quite capable of coping with the choreographer's demands, -each one on his own! They just do not bother to synchronize with each other. However, they are all very expressive, which in this case is as important as their dancing skills.
Emily Piercy is the Prince's girlfriend. She's cute and funny and does make an impression, but with this coreography I just cann't be sure of how accomplished a dancer she actually is.
Fiona Chadwick as the Queen is ravishing. She's cruel and distant and sexy, all at the same time. Whow!!!
Scott Ambler is the Prince. He creates a likeable character and his dancing is excellent, but he does not shine as much as his Swan does. Well, how many Princes do you know, who can out-shine their feathered partners?
Which brings us to Adam Cooper. He alone would be enough reaason for anyone to watch this dvd! He is a wonderful dancer and actor. His white Swan is threatening in the beginning, but as the pas-de-deux progresses he becomes more tender by the minute (without ever becoming effeminate or ridiculous.) His Black Swan (here, called the Stranger) is so sexy and sinister, that a friend who was watching the dvd with me exclaimed: "Oh God, I hope I never fall in love with somebody like this! I'd know I'd be in trouble, but I just would not be able to resist him!" I believe that says it all!
on 25 February 2001
For people unfamiliar with the names of the choreographer and dance company, this is the unconventional (some would say "notorious") staging with all male swans. Don't let that put you off, and don't make assumptions about a particular direction that might imply - watch this with open eyes. The different approach to the story produces some very powerful imagery, leavened with moments of humour, with fine performances by all.
This 1995 production from Adventures in Motion Pictures shows how an imaginative, daring new take on a classic work can broaden the sense of what it fundamentally is. Here the visuals and music work together in a way that releases the full passion of Tchaikovsky's score, while giving us many new dance shapes and ideas to get involved in. There can rarely have been more of a coup than inverting the prettiness of female swans to give us a corps de ballet of much more aggressive male ones, and the humour of the whole staging adds a note of pantomime in the best sense, like a pageant of rambunctious scenes. As a non-ballet person, I sometimes find that traditional dance seems to exclude humour, as if beauty and even prettiness is really a very serious business. This production not only swoops around with the agility of a swan's neck, but presents its intriguing interpretation through a pageant-like display that moves as much as it entertains. I remember Matthew Bourne stressing that it didn't have to be seen as gay, but it does seem to me that this element is fairly to the fore, if more in terms of the Prince's feeling than something explicitly physical. I find it very romantic, and am more inclined to see it like this rather than in terms of some kind of projection of an inner self, but it adds to its depth that it can be seen in different ways. Similarly it is part-realistic and part-dreamlike, as with all fairy tales, but this allows the satirical aspects to be worked in seamlessly - it is already a hybrid that breaks all the rules. Swans are quite aggressive in real life, so these are closer to the mark in that way; however the strongest, most powerful among them is also the gentlest, the most feeling ... It is a beguiling paradox as presented by the magnificent Adam Cooper, whose wingspan surely far exceeds any previous swan to take to the stage. He moves with a fantastic grace, with a feeling of reserves of power. Scott Ambler is an ideal foil, somehow cut from a very different cloth in psychological and dance terms. He is brilliant at conveying the character's heartbreaking vulnerability. And Fiona Chadwick has some indefinable quality that is also mesmerising. The other dancers are all outstanding, though, and the crowd scenes choreographed with superb elan and a frank sexiness that is quite striking on film! Then there is the extra layering of the Prince as a boy sleeping with a stuffed swan, who reappears periodically. I'm sure Tchaikovsky would have loved this, but it has something for everyone, really.