Correction to This Article
Today's Weekend section, which was printed in advance, includes an article about Matthew Bourne's "Swan Lake" at the Warner Theatre. On April 20, the entire run of the show, scheduled to begin April 25, was canceled by the show's producers.

'Swan Lake': Male Call

Matthew Bourne's
Matthew Bourne's "Swan Lake" features male dancers. His reimagining of the piece won three Tonys in 1999. (By Bill Cooper)

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By Lisa Traiger
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, April 21, 2006

When Matthew Bourne's "Swan Lake" arrives at the Warner Theatre on Tuesday, it brings not a gaggle of tutu-clad ballerinas, but a flock of very athletic swans, every last one of them male. They don't shimmer and flit through the forest in satiny pink pointe shoes; Bourne's male swans gallop and hurtle, engulfing the stage with disarming visceral power. With most eyes trained to regard "Swan Lake" as a celebration of lithe, sylph-like ballerinas, these men, bare-chested and brawny, force us to take a second look when the male corps de ballet enters to the strains of Tchaikovsky's clarion swan call.

Bourne, 46, came to "Swan Lake" and to ballet relatively late for a professional dancer. "I didn't actually see a ballet until I was in my late teens," he admits, and he didn't take a ballet class until he was in college and studying contemporary dance and choreography at the Laban Centre in Britain. Before that, Bourne says, "the dance I knew was from film, stage musicals. That was what I was really into as a kid -- Fred Astaire, MGM, that kind of stuff."

But once he saw "Swan Lake," Bourne admits he was smitten. " 'Swan Lake' was never the same twice. It's always slightly different, sometimes very much different. I found it fascinating. I don't remember having the reaction that a lot of people have, that it was so beautiful and pretty and all that. I just felt that it was strange and weird and wonderful and odd and so eccentric."

So when Bourne -- who founded his own troupe, Adventures in Motion Pictures -- turned "Swan Lake" on its head in 1995, it most definitely shook up the staid ballet world, first in his home town, London, and later on Broadway, where it won three Tony Awards in 1999.

"I wanted to please everyone, make it accessible, for an audience of people who went to the theater or the cinema or maybe people who didn't go see dance," Bourne says. "But at that point I also very much wanted to be accepted by the dance world. I wanted to show them that I knew the piece, understood the piece, that I wasn't just messing with it."

Bourne rethought the narrative, honing in on the British royal family as both inspiration and target. There's an icy mum and a socially awkward young prince, the prince's girlfriend resembles a vivacious Sarah Ferguson and the evil sorcerer Rothbart is an overbearing and secretive press secretary, privy to the inner workings of the royal family. The ballet focuses on the prince, who wrestles with suggestive themes such as fidelity, Oedipal attachment, filial duty, sexual identity and madness.

There's also enough dancing to satisfy dance lovers, if not ballet traditionalists, who might pine for a classic grand pas de deux and wonder what happened to the ballet's famous Act 3 pyrotechnics. But Bourne points out that he did return to Tchaikovsky's original score with faster tempos and no shuffling of musical sections. "I didn't mess around with the music at all," he insists. "Our version is more authentic musically, actually."

At the same time, "my company, of course, wasn't a classical company. We're free to interpret whichever way we choose; it was very creative and free. And it did shake people up a bit and make them question what they do."

Swan Lake Warner Theatre 202-397-7328 Tuesday through April 30


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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