October 16th, 2010

La Loge

Swan Lake

But not the one you're thinking of, unless your mind goes right to Matthew Bourne and those big scary, muscular guys with feather-leggings and the worst of all possible attitudes towards inter-species dating.  We saw it in 1998, when it was new and startling and audience members left the theatre in droves--the straight guys because a pas de deux between two guys is icky and the ballet queens because they missed the tutus and gently waving arms.  I don't know why the woman sitting next to Ellen left in the middle of Act I--maybe she hadn't got the guy-Swan memo.  I suspect the men in front of us left because one of them was too big for the little, teeny seats they have up in the balcony of the Civic Center.  I'm sorry he was uncomfortable, but it was certainly easier to see the stage after he left, since he was also unusually tall. 

Anyway.  The ballet.  Bourne says it's not a ballet at all, but a dance/theate production, and indeed it is very far from a floaty, dreamy White Ballet.  For one thing, Bourne has changed the story to add actual psychological resonance and relevance.  In this version, the Prince is a shy young man going through the paces of public life in the hopes that if he's a good enough boy, his mother the Queen will show him some affection. When finally convinced that this is the vainest of vain hopes, he disguises himself, gets drunk in a cheap dive, gets beaten up by a couple of sailors, and ends up in a city park, where he prepares to kill himself, only to be stopped by a flock of swans.  A Special Swan shows up and wins his heart.  Next night, there's a Palace Ball, which the Swan seems to crash, dressed in black leather and a skirted coat, the Top to Top All Tops.  To the Prince's chagrin, this Stranger is all over every woman in the room, including Queen-Mom (a knock-out in red satin and black petticoats).  There is a struggle with the gun (provided by the Private Secretary, for reasons I could not fathom), and a feckless Girl who has been following the Prince around (possibly at the instigation of the same Private Secretary) gets shot--by the Prince, aiming at the Stranger.  There's a strange and rather pointless scene involving a doctor, seven female nurses, and ECT, after which the Swan and the Prince are nibbled to death by the flock, and the Queen is sorry.

Oh.  The Swan (and his flock) might be imaginary.

Well, the story's not the point in any ballet, is it?  Even though it makes a lot more sense than the original, this one works better as a metaphor for coming out in the mid 20th Century (or even now, although it's easier than it was when I was an adolescent) than as an actual coherent narrative.  In Bourne's hands, it gives plenty of opportunity for broad comedy (any scene involving the Girlfriend, who is a kind of Valley Girl/Chav mixture, with touches of Paris Hilton around the costume) as well as high tragedy, and a lot of really yummy dancing.  No pas de bourre, attitude, grande battement stuff, though there are plenty of lifts and leaps and very interesting things done with the head and arms, particularly by the swan chorus.  One of my favorite parts was a spoof ballet, with a guy in white tights chasing a Butterfly Maiden and her attendants with a collecting net, and three rather groovy Demons, one of which the Butterfly Maiden clocks with an axe when he threatens her True Love.  My other favorite part was the love-duet with the Swan and the Prince, which was a marvel of parallel dancing, with both men supporting and lifting as well as leaping.  It was interesting, though, that the Prince got no solo within the duet--he  only danced when the Swan danced, or chased after him.

We were really too tired to go, one day back from Sirens/Tucson, but I'm glad we did.  I'm glad I wrote this review, too, although it was a bit of a struggle.  It's been too long since I've written anything.