Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake in 3D

Richard Winsor as The Swan. Image by Hugo Glendinning
It’s the most famous and revered story in ballet, so it’s no wonder everyone wants to have a go at Swan Lake. But how many versions do we really need?

I saw Matthew Bourne’s homoerotic Swan Lake on stage in 2007, and my opinion of the ballet wasn’t changed much by seeing it again at the cinema recently. The filmed version is true to Bourne’s original, with most camera angles barely differing from the view in the front rows of the theatre.

Filming in 3D helps to negate the flattening effect of looking at a proscenium arch on screen, but it’s not a patch on the live experience. Really, if we’re going to put dance/opera/theatre on screen, it should be designed specifically for film, otherwise the benefits of such an affordable, accessible arts encounter are undone by the highly passive experience of watching a second-hand performance.

But back to the work at hand. Bourne’s Swan Lake is certainly not a choreographic masterpiece, although some of the theatrical elements, including the libretto, are very well constructed. It’s still pretty unusual to see anything other than fairytale heterosexual relationships in ballet productions, so Bourne’s twist, which has the prince chasing after a male swan, is a refreshing change.

In the filmed version, Richard Winsor is stunning as the lead Swan/Stranger. His eloquent upper body and rock-star charisma translate onto screen perfectly, making him hot property in both feathered pantaloons and later, black leather pants. There’s only one thing bringing Winsor down, and it’s something that often bothers me about male dancers. How do so many of them get away with having such terrible feet? Sure they’re stretched, but pointed toes on a brick just don’t cut it for me.

While the set and costumes are great, Bourne fails to take advantage of his huge group of swans until right near the end, when we finally see the power of unified movement. Up until then, the bare chested, all-male swans are broken into small groups, performing variations on an aggressive, avian theme in a helter-skelter way. The lack of precision becomes quite frustrating, and we get the sense that he’s just filling in the music.

If you’re interested in seeing the show but unable to get to the West End, the 3D film version is not a bad substitute. But if you’re already familiar with the work, there are no surprises to be had here, nor even much joy beyond the pleasure of watching Winsor strut his stuff.

Swan Lake is screening around Australia this weekend (5-6 May). Click here for participating cinemas.

Cinema Nova in Carlton, Melbourne, is screening several filmed ballets this year, check their website for details.


  1. I've seen it. Very impressive, good choreography and dancers.

  2. I Seen your choreography and I really like the way you choreograph