Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake (review). A triumphant return to Milton Keynes Theatre.

Swan Lake
Swan Lake

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake returned in triumph to Milton Keynes Theatre last night, earning a prolonged standing ovation from an audience simply dazzled by the one of the choreographer’s finest works.

Bourne’s reimagining of the classic ballet into a more contemporary dance piece has been heaped with praise and multiple awards since its inception 19 years ago.

It’s impossible not to be swept up in this tragic tale of a young prince desperately looking for love and the affection of his cold-hearted mother.

Ask anyone in the street to name a ballet and they’d probably come up with the romantic Swan Lake with its lush music from Tchaikovsky and its corps de ballet performing in little white tutus.

Bourne shocked the world of classical dance when he decided to cast the swans as men. Instead of the stately grace and delicacy of petite ballerinas we have a flock of intimidating, muscular, males, their eyes ringed with khol, every step and tic mimicking the rhythm and movement of those powerful birds.

He also decided to make the production more about contemporary dance rather than ballet. It was a spectacular success – even if it did initially shock the purists.

Now we have a homoerotic fantasy where The Prince, on the verge of a nervous breakdown contemplates drowning himself before being attracted to an aggressively dominant lead swan leading his flock on the lake.

Watching the swans posture and exert their dominance is mesmerising. Chris Trenfield’s powerful performance as Lead Swan and, later, the whip-wielding, leather clad Stranger (very 50 Shades) who seduces a ballroom of top totty, is remarkable.

Trenfield, in full swan mode, his lip quivering in disdain, dark eyes boring into the heart of the distraught prince and every sinew twitching with avian-like familiarity, is fascinating.

Their burgeoning relationship is played out with the most intimate of dances as Liam Mower’s emotionally-wanting and sexually confused, prince is pushed closer to the edge. Ultimately they both pay the price for their need to find love.

It is a haunting performance and deeply moving. Mower’s young face is the epitome of innocence and desperation. At one point he throws himself at his mother, clinging to her couture gown, only to be cast aside. It’s no wonder he takes to the bottle.

There’s less of Bourne’s trademark levity in this darker and more tragic interpretation with more emphasis on a doomed story of lost love.

As usual Lez Brotherston’s sets and costumes are breathtaking. The women’s gowns are wonderfully simple and elegant (gosh, I wish we could still dress like this!) while the larger-than-life sterile environment of the royal palace is beautifully captured.

Rick Fisher’s stark lighting design of both the palace, and later a sanatorium, produce a nightmarish scene where scary shadows threaten. It’s no wonder the prince went mad.

A momentous night of contemporary dance.

Swan Lake runs until Saturday. For tickets call the box office 0844 871 7652 or visit

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