So a few months back I got an email from NY City Center announcing a four-week only engagement of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. I immediately bought tickets. I’d deal with the fact that NY City Center is in New York (obviously) and I am in Los Angeles at a later time. More importantly, how would I sell Boy Swans to CarBoy? Normally CarBoy is pretty game to take me to the ballet, there is, after all, the promise of pizza after the show, and Swan Lake has been his favorite – he likes “the mechanics” of the flock of swans.
Me: We’re going to New York to see Swan Lake
Me: This one is different?
Me: The swans are boys.
CarBoy: I don’t get it.
Me: Boys. The swans are boys.
CarBoy:~ confused silence
Me: Don’t worry about it, you’ll like it, and anyway there will be pizza when it’s over.
We headed out to City Center on Thursday, October 21st. With seats front and center, it was all I could do to sit still waiting for the curtain to go up. And when it did, the velvet curtain rose to reveal a scrim with a single swan in flight painted upon it. It was so beautiful that I was riveted by the scrim all on it’s own. It was obvious the music would be taped, as there was no orchestra pit. That is always a little disappointing because there is nothing quite so luscious, so decadent, and delicious as ballet accompanied with a live orchestra. And I will admit, there were a few moments when my radar ears caught a little static in the sound system but the reality is that as much as it would have been wonderful to have, live music wasn’t a deal breaker for this production.
My Boy Swan for the evening was Jonathan Ollivier. I’m not really very familiar with his work as a dancer but most of the reviews I read were of performances that featured the other Boy Swan, Richard Winsor. My prince was Dominic North, who was receiving wonderful reviews. Now let me also state for the record that I read reviews, but I don’t put all that much stock in them. Reviews are impossibly subjective and victim to a whole number of contexts and sub-contexts, so I read them but don’t necessarily believe them. Back to ballet… Dominic North was indeed really wonderful as the Prince, innocence without melodrama and sympathetic without being overtly pathetic. Shelby Williams played the girlfriend to the Prince and she was Hy-ster-i-cal with a capital H. I loved her absolutely. Her pantomime was over-the-top in all the right places. She was a terrific dopey blond Barbie doll complete with pink poof dress.
Where to begin about Jonathan Ollivier! I loved him. It’s hard to even begin to describe how beautifully Mr. Ollivier played the role; his juxtaposition of characteristics was simply perfect. So instead of just gushing, I guess the best way to talk about Mr. Ollivier’s performance is to talk about the ballet. I love the audacity of Matthew Bourne to take such liberties with such a classic, well-known, and well-loved ballet and tweak it so bruskly as this. MB’s Swan Lake is both extreme and subtle, wacky and well balanced. I think it appeals to me because it is literary at its best; the story is rich and well layered with symbolism and syllogism. It is a ballet that you can discuss for hours afterward, not just the staging and the dancing… which I love to do, don’t get me wrong, but the story! Which, let’s be honest, classical ballet is not known for its literary strength of story and character.
MB’s Swan Lake is thick and fraught and funny and beautiful and moving and sickening and theatrical and classic and creative and… I could keep going on for hours, in fact, I did… over pizza.
The reality of Mr. Ollivier’s performance is that he met all the needs of MB’s Swan Lake, beautiful, fraught, sexy, sickening, theatrical, tragic, comical… he was mesmerizing throughout. His dancing was big and lush. In the ballroom scene, he practically danced right out of his leather sexypants, ripping the rear end seam! His swan was hostile and angry, moody and melancholy; when he tore through the bed to save the prince, he was equally savage and tragic.
CarBoy was equally impressed, according to him; of all the ballets that I’ve dragged him to, uh, that he’s accompanied me to, he’d never seen dancers work so hard. He imagined that the entire flock collapsed right at the wings. Something that I’ve always loved is the sound of a flock of swans on pointe trying to dance quietly on shoes that have been beaten against cement to soften the sound, only to hear the thud, thud, thud, thud, thud as they enter and exit the stage… boy swans do not disappoint with the crash of bare feet coming down hard and fast, running onto the stage and running off, the sound was fantastic.
The fact that this production doesn’t come around too often is indeed a shame, as I do believe that I could happily see it all over again. And so I did… stay tuned and I’ll tell all about Swan Lake with Richard Winsor as Boy Swan!
I am so pleased you saw Jonathan Ollivier and Dominic North as this is the pairing that I saw at Sadler’s Wells last year. I think Ollivier gets a raw deal because Winsor got all the press. He is an exceptional, incredible, versatile dancer with so much power and passion. He paired North so well – he was so powerful and North so weak comparatively. I found the ending with the hospital scene very difficult and the final moments on the bed deeply affecting.