You Don't Want To Miss Swan Lake At The Ahmanson This Season

Check Out Our Full Review Here

December 11, 2019
Swan Lake

In this season of giving, the Center Theatre Group is giving Los Angeles its very best.  Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is as startling and fresh an innovation as it was in its 1995 inception in London’s West End.  Back then, Bourne took the communities of dance, theatre, and politics by storm, blowing up tradition with a single casting choice—male swans. As if his then-shocking allusion to gay love wasn’t enough, his story of a frustrated prince seemed to be a direct poke at the Royal Family. In a 2018 interview, Bourne confirmed it was, indeed, a response to the Royal Family dramas, which were featured day in and day out in British media and beyond. But those scandals were not what propelled his Swan Lake to become the longest running ballet on both the West End and on Broadway.  Bourne’s genius of movement, story, and pathos, was then, as it is now, a mind-blowing triumph.  He magnified and transformed the very notion of ballet itself, by both retaining conventions of classical ballet, while at the same time, ignoring them altogether in deference to a swing-influenced modern style completely of his own making. 


And here, two decades since it enjoyed its U.S. debut at the Ahmanson in 1997, the homoeroticism that was scandalous then is normalized now (Bourne might take a bow at having blazed the trail to that normalization.)   Now, it is clear that Bourne’s innovation is much more than gender-bending.  It is the magnificent power of the Swan/Stranger, the Swan Core who are at once refined and violent, the overarching themes of longing, Oedipal conflict, the dark end in tragedy—all animated by the imagination and mastery of one of the most prolific and groundbreaking choreographer/directors of our lifetime.  Bourne, perhaps unconsciously, nods to other great choreographers in this sweeping work.  Like the soil of wine grapes that retains some vestige of previous harvests, tiny tastes of this newly revamped Swan Lake invoke Jerome Robbins’ Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story; the works of Agnes De Mille; and even Balanchine, whose traditional Swan Lake is all but a memory next to Bourne’s brainchild.  And the women; sexy, flashy, standing toe-to-toe with the powerful men, creating a bombastic transaction of dance that evoked gasps, laughs, and oohs and ahs from the opening night audience.


Bourne’s lifelong set and costume design partner Lex Brotherston outdoes himself in this New Adventure Production with costumes so innovative, they could inspire next year’s runway. The lines.  The colors.  The function.  Small details fill in every inch within the visual field—such as the streaks in The Queen’s hair that bring to mind Cruella De Ville— punctuated by Paule Constable’s ever-dynamic lighting design.  A tremendous tip of the hat to sound designer, Ken Hampton, whose nuances of sound make for a complete world.  The sound of the swans is terrifying. 


Don’t miss this tremendous achievement of theatre.  Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake runs through January 5, 2020.  Get your tickets here.