Since its premiere in 1995, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake has toured all over the world, collecting over thirty international theatre awards, including three Tonys for the Broadway production. It is now regarded as a modern classic. Here, for it’s fourth Japan tour, the Japanese audience was reserved a special treat: Marcelo Gomes (an American Ballet Theatre principal, regarded as one of the most versatile dancers in the world) in the dual role of The Swan / The Stranger. And he made quite a sensation with the Tokyo’s public!

Marcelo Gomes in Matthew Bourne's <i>Swan Lake</i> © Hidemi Seto
Marcelo Gomes in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake
© Hidemi Seto

Although some revisions have slightly altered the production since its creation (the omission of the character of the young Prince, and the Private Secretary’s role becoming less prominent) most of the plot and choreography remain unaltered and the work is still fresh and groundbreaking. Lez Brotherstone’s stylish and brilliant designs too, have stood the test of time and once again we marvel at how magnificent this production is.

While the concept of male swans is a contemporary take on the classic, and the production’s seeming impersonation of the royal family of England is unique, this variation of Swan Lake is still, in many aspects, quite faithful to the Petipa /Ivanov choreography. In fact the structure of the corps de ballet choreography in the second act seems to pay homage to the classic version. And it is impressive how Bourne makes full use of Tchaikovsky’s score. In the last act especially, we can feel how dramatic, terribly tragic and profoundly beautiful the familiar melody is, when combined with the overwhelming flock of fierce swans, akin to Hitchcock’s The Birds, in their attack and killing of both the wounded Swan and the Prince. Tchaikovsky’s score has never been as beautiful and as cruel as this.

Marcelo Gomes’s Swan is a dream come true - for fans of this ballet. While masculine, Gomes’s elegant port de bras, and delicate movements resemble those of the bird; ferocious and royal-like at the same time. Although his ankles are covered in white feathers, we can see the classical beauty of his pointed bare feet, his lines and his soaring leaps. He masters the modern nature of Bourne’s movements, moving from a low center of gravity, naturally blending in with the other swans. A distinguished actor, Gomes magnificently portrays the authoritative figure the Prince desperately longs to be with, in his lonely, stressful court life, as well as the seductive, beautiful creature that represents the freedom the prince longed for.

But Bourne’s Swan Lake is the story of the Prince, and this role is as important as that of the Swan. Christopher Marney, who has been working with Bourne for a long time, was impeccable, with his sensitive characterization and fluid, unconstrained movement that so eloquently tell of the pain, agony, hope and despair of a boy both crushed by the pressure of the crown and longing for love. He is in harmony with Gomes, their chemistry delightful, and in their movements, we could see two souls searching for their lost half, but finally finding it in themselves. Their steamy tango scene with Gomes as the alluring Stranger was one of the most intense and thrilling male duets I have seen, and it had everyone in the house holding their breath.

© Hidemi Seto
© Hidemi Seto
Matthew Bourne always chooses dancers with able to create drama. And that is evident, not just in the lead cast, but also in the ensemble, who shone in his pop culture influenced Swank Bar scene with many iconic characters borrowed from 70’s movies. Seeing the elaborate but decadent court ball, with its princesses and even the Queen being frantically seduced by the Odile inspired Stranger, is so much fun!

And we must not forget to mention the performance of the male corps. Their marvelous and powerful dancing creates such rapture among audiences all over the world, and is evidently one of the reasons why this work is so loved.

No wonder the stars of the ballet world are so eager to perform in this masterpiece!

*****