It’s been 15 years since British choreographer Matthew Bourne injected a supersize shot of testosterone into the beloved, oh-so-traditional Tchaikovsky ballet Swan Lake. And it’s been 12 years since Bourne’s production walked off with three Tony Awards for an acclaimed Broadway run.
Now Bourne has brought his most famous dance piece back to New York for a three-week run (at Off Broadway’s New York City Center through Nov. 7) that carries all of the energy, humor, and charm of the original — even if the shock value of casting men as swans has worn off. Yes, this is the famed reinterpretation of the classic story in which a young prince (a slightly tentative Dominic North, alternating the role with Simon Williams) feels stifled by his unfeeling mother, the queen (Nina Goldman) until he stumbles upon a bold and passionate swan (the impressively dynamic Richard Winsor, who alternates with Jonathan Ollivier) who unleashes the prince’s long-suppressed feelings of desire.
The piece still carries a refreshing mix of feeling and humor, much of the latter supplied by the Paris Hilton-like Girlfriend (Madelaine Brennan, alternating with Shelby Williams), who tends toward slapstick in her attempt to wheedle her way into the royal family. And it’s hard not to be struck by the site of a flock of a dozen or so swans embodied by bare-chested men with feathery pants, suggesting all the physicality, grace, and aggressiveness of swans in the wild.
Bourne has apparently revisited his most famous dance piece — which owes less to the en pointe ballet tradition than to modern dance performance styles — and tweaked some of the costumes and choreography along the way. The biggest change, and perhaps the biggest disappointment, is his budget-minded decision to use a recorded music track instead of a live orchestra. The recording is not even credited or identified in the program, which must be an added blow to the unionized musicians who were leafleting outside the theater the night I attended.
Still, this is a captivating evening of dance as theater. It is a work of storytelling in its purest, wordless form — and one that allows your imagination, like the onstage swans themselves, to take flight. A-
(Tickets and info: NYCityCenter.org)