Tonight Savoir Faire is off to the Ballet! The Mariinsky ballet is here in Toronto this week presenting Swan Lake. With all the hype over “The Black Swan” movie and also the fact that it has been years since I have seen Swan Lake, it is going to be a nice break from the craziness that is hovering over my desk at work.
Of course there have been many interpretations of the work since its original inception by Tchaikovsky including the serious and the comedic.
One production of which I am itching to see is that of British choreographer Matthew Bourne. Bourne seems to push the envelope with his interpretations of classics, creating incredibly stylish, visual productions that challenge our already pre-conceived ideas. See my post on Bourne’s Dorian Gray.
Bourne's Swan Lake radically reinterprets the original myth. The focus of the ballet is turned away from the Ondine character to the man – the Prince. It is the Prince who struggles against repression and hopes for liberty, and who needs love to make him safe. However, as in the Ondine myth, the sin of betrayal cannot be expiated except in death. Bourne’s scenario is an unofficial interpretation as he does not believe in scenarios for his productions and prefers the audience to interpret the story for themselves. Stylistic inspiration also came from the Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds.
One of the most noticeable changes Bourne has made has been the replacing of the traditional female corps de ballet with a cast of menacing male dancers. We have a preconceived idea of swans as somewhat fragile creatures and this is exemplified in the traditional staging of the ballet. The original ballet also creates a highly romanticized version of conventional heterosexual love. Placing a male in the lead role puts love between men in centre stage. According to Bourne, "The idea of a male swan makes complete sense to me. The strength, the beauty, the enormous wingspan of these creatures suggests to the musculature of a male dancer more readily than a ballerina in her white tutu."
The good thing is, while there have been several radical changes in Bourne’s interpretation, there are central themes that have not been changed. Both are about doomed, forbidden love, and both feature a Prince who wishes to transcend the boundaries of everyday convention through that love.
Bourne has also commented that "I could see an opportunity to create a human story, with the
potential for great dramatic power and range, indulge my satirical and humorous ideas”
Bourne has created an intense psychological drama. His choice of male swans is exactly what Tchaikovsky’s music requires. These are menacing bare chested dancers (and the black leathered version of The Swan at the party) are the perfect medium for the Prince to discover and celebrate his sexuality.
And although the Prince is unashamedly gay, Swan Lake is universal in its appeal and accessible to all persons who know what it means to be misunderstood, confused about sexuality and love, and long for intimacy and relationship.