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New 'Swan Lake' makes its point powerfully

Tell Tchaikovsky the news, indeed.

In his re-imagination of ''Swan Lake," for which the word ''stunning" seems far too wimpy, Matthew Bourne makes it seem as if Peter Ilyich wrote the ballet for him, so much so that we can almost forgive the producers from changing the name of the production from ''Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake" to ''Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake." (Tchaikovsky doesn't even appear on the titles page of the program.)

Then again, this is hardly classical ballet. It's more like conversational ballet in which the dance and music are always in service to the story rather than the other way around, despite the fact that Bourne is choreographer as well as director.

And what a choreographer he is, combining modern dance and ballet to the point where you don't know where one ends and the other begins. The royal court -- there are certainly touches of the current royal court -- and its hangers-on primp and preen posture with every gesture. The ball turns into some pretty dirty dancing. The swans are swans with attitude, hissing at you while daring you to try to come closer.

By the way, they're guy swans, so if you want to interpret this as a gay ''Swan Lake," as many have done in its award-winning runs in London and New York, then Bourne isn't going to stop you.

Nor am I. What's more interesting, though, than their new musculature, is what they represent to the Prince, who conjures them out of his imagination. Odette is now simply the Swan, and he represents freedom from the bland security of the court and the stale dissoluteness of life outside it. As the Prince is carried off by the Swan, who all but tucks him under his arm, in St. James Park it almost seems as if the music by Tchaikovsky, no stranger to issues with sexuality himself, is celebrating being freed from the tyranny of tutus.

Jose Tirado is sensational as both the Swan and Stranger (the Odile counterpart), bringing a young John Travolta bad boy swagger in both his acting and dancing. Among the others in last night's cast, Saranne Curtin as the Queen and Agnes Vandrepote as the Girlfriend are equally fine actors, Curtin showing more shades of Audrey H and Ava G than Elizabeth II.

Simon Wakefield's dancing is elegant, and he conveys a heartbreaking loneliness in his acting as well. His quest for the Swan provides the heart and soul of this ''Swan Lake" as in others. But here he learns that you'd better be careful what you wish for. Passion has its dark side, represented by Tirado as the libidinous Stranger.

Bourne's storytelling, throughout, is exquisite, whether he's satirizing high art -- there are some tutus -- or popular culture. The clumsiness and crassness of the Girlfriend, conveyed by both Vandrepote's movement and facial expressions, sends up both.

The Prince is doomed not by an unrealistic love, but by a society that will do whatever it takes to make him fail. And yet there's something universal in his being trapped between royalty and rebellion. It may seem like it's about the royal family, but Bourne makes ''Swan Lake" exquisitely earthy.

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