Fall Preview: A Swan Reborn
By Aaron Hicklin
Matthew Bourne, an acolyte of musical theater, was 19 when he saw his first ballet -- a Scottish production of Swan Lake at London's Sadler's Wells Theater. He remembers thinking how cool it was not to have to wait for the dance numbers. 'It was literally like, 'Oh, it's a musical where they dance all the time,'' he recalls. 'I loved it so much that I went to see it again the same week, but in another production that was completely different. I suppose that set me off in a way.'
And how. Eight years later, Bourne was melding his various enthusiasms into a series of attention-grabbing dance pieces as director of his own company, Adventures in Motion Pictures. In Spitfire, his first production, four men cavorted in tighty-whities in a delicious send-up of underwear ads and male vanity; Deadly Serious was a comic paean to Hitchock; his Nutcracker! came with an exclamation point (inspired by Oliver!) and was set in a Dickensian orphanage.
So, when Bourne's all-male version of Swan Lake premiered in 1995, critics could be forgiven for expecting comic swans failing to execute their pas de deux. But there was nothing comic about them. They were muscular, feral, and thrilling. And despite Bourne's playful wit and wink-wink references -- the queen has a clockwork corgi, a Soho nightclub scene includes Quentin Crisp and gay playwright Joe Orton -- the overall tone is dark and unabashedly homoerotic. 'There's a resonance in it for a gay audience that's really moving, and it's not something we shy away from,' says Bourne. 'The prince in the piece, I think it can be said, is gay, and it's something that he's had to repress because he's a royal.'
For its return to New York City on October 13 (the Broadway debut in 1998 won Bourne two Tonys) the prince's story has been heightened still further, the humor toned down. 'I never think my productions are perfect -- I always think they can be better,' says Bourne. 'So the Swan Lake that will be seen in New York will not be the Swan Lake of 10 years ago.'