Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake: A Reimagined Classic
by Ruth Montoya
Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake returns once again to New York City Center (January 30 to February 9), offering his unique reinterpretation of the classical ballet by Tchaikovsky. Bourne’s contemporary take on the iconic performance allows his piece to be enjoyed continuously by a variety of audiences.
Bourne’s adaptation maintains the romantic elements portrayed in the original ballet despite having changed major aspects of the love story. Unlike the original Swan Lake— which is the tale of a beautiful princess who is cursed to live as a swan until someone who has never loved before promises to love her forever– Bourne’s storyline focuses on a prince who encounters alluringly dangerous male swans. This gender reversal has allowed Bourne to toy with the idea of masculinity and how it relates to the portrayal of vulnerability.
What makes this piece very suiting for our modern-day society is that Bourne challenges the typical thoughts associated with men in ballet. Traditionally, it is the ballerina who is used to carry out the story of the piece while the male dancers exist as a supportive measure. However, the strong male presence in Bourne’s Swan Lake shows how masculinity is an element that adds to the movements of the dancers and adds contrast to more sensitive emotions.
The encounter between the prince and the swan leader is impactful due to how the prince’s life had been set to play. Constantly being attended to by his many servants and being watched by the Queen, the prince starts to feel disconnected from the real world which drives him into a state of loneliness. The extent of this feeling is revealed through the intimate moments he shares with the lead swan. Their physical connections are breaths of relief as they dance freely with one another, demonstrating how much the prince yearned to confide in someone. And while the close proximity of these dancers has led most of the audience to believe that Bourne has created a homoerotic version of the original Swan Lake, it’s important to highlight how naturally and effortlessly the dancers portray such deep emotions.
Whether or not he intended to, Matthew Bourne’s transformation of a feminine classical piece into a more masculine contemporary theatrical performance has helped to shed light upon contributions men continue to make in ballet, which has been lost over the years. Bourne’s piece serves to inspire each new generation of dancers to continue evolving the world of dance.
Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is playing at New York City Center through February 9, 2020