When art becomes transcendent, it is unlike anything else. There is something sublime, something transportive, as if one is suddenly and rapturously catapulted into a meditative trance, invited into the imaginative rendering of an auteur and his truth. Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake: The Legend Returns, playing now at the Ahmanson, is a work of such beauty that its exquisiteness lies in the sheer audacity of its own existence. The re-telling of the classic ballet through the ingenious queer lens of a master storyteller is awe-inspiring.
Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is the story of a princess who turns into a swan because of an evil sorcerer’s curse. It deals with themes of true love, identity and good vs. evil. Under Matthew Bourne’s brilliant choreography and direction, the story becomes one of a young Prince (Andrew Monaghan) who struggles with isolation and feelings of inadequacy because of his own identity. On the brink of suicide, at a moonlit park the Prince is changed forever by his encounter with a Swan (Will Bozier), a charismatic and alluring figure who, along with an ensemble of bare-chested swans, presents to the Prince a new idea of world and self. The dance of the Swans is an incredible performance of masculinized bravado delicately juxtaposed against an avian fluidity that is at once ethereal and aggressive. The eyes are tricked by the cleverly craned arm motions as often as the breath is taken by the dazzling spectacle of flesh and movement.
We follow the journey of the Prince, full knowing the tragedy that will befall him, because the catharsis will be so worth it. Anything as perfectly joyous as this deserves our full attention to any devastating denouement. Matthew Bourne is unlike any other choreographer in many, many ways, but it is as a director where his genius reaches the realm of magical. He can reconstruct entire narratives without a single spoken word in such an accessible way that no one could possibly feel alienated from the world he’s created. He follows mood and feeling through dramatic actions and recreates the story by allowing those elements to motivate his work. It’s as if he’s instinctually recreating mood. There is so much breadth of feeling to every moment, to every single movement that language becomes superfluous. What an amazing gift of someone of such clear genius to possess. The entire production is a total triumph. From the majestic set and costume design by Lez Brotherston, to the lighting and sound design by Paule Constable and Ken Hampton.
Will Bozier is staggeringly magnetic in the dual role of The Swan/Stranger, his tenacity draws your eye to every nuanced movement and feat of physical prowess, and he never relents. It’s a stunner of a performance. Likewise, the entire company of dancers is impressive. Having originally premiered over twenty years ago, this piece has not only stood the test of time, but is every bit as provocative and groundbreaking today. There are moments that go well beyond theatrically interesting and become as I have stated previously, sublime. There is a magical element to the wondrous spectacle that is created before you, and it should not be missed. I am left with, however, a sort of delicious inability to explain why exactly this piece is so outstanding- why it transported me to a place of bliss and sadness and joy and awe. The closest I can come to an answer is that a master at his craft has built a story with the best of everything at his disposal, and interpreted the world as authentically as he could. I was merely fortune enough to witness it. The point of great art is not to impress, nor to alienate, but to transfix, to tell a truth as only you, the artist, can see it, and thus art can change the world. Maybe that’s what all great art can do. If so…
The world needs more Matthew Bourne.
Swan Lake: The Legend Returns
DIRECTED AND CHOREOGRAPHED BY MATTHEW BOURNE
MUSIC BY PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY
Dec. 5- Jan. 5, 2020
Ticket Prices: $35 – $145 (Ticket prices are subject to change.)
Tickets are available Online at http://www.CenterTheatreGroup.org
By calling Center Theatre Group Audience Services at 213.972.4400
Center Theatre Group /Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center
135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012.