That lifelike pooch is one of many comic details of Windsor mythology brilliantly woven into this entertaining and beautifully rendered production, which New Adventures, the group led by British choreographer Bourne, performs at the Kennedy Center through Jan. 26. This run is part of a revival tour. Unbelievably, it’s been a quarter-century since Bourne first tore the tutus off the “Swan Lake” tradition.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Bourne stunned audiences in 1995 with this interpretation. It hinges on a devastating, poignant view of a sensitive prince, modeled on a young Prince Charles, and his strained relationship with his ice-cold mum. In what felt decidedly edgy and transgressive then, the prince falls in love with a man — that is, a male swan, or rather, a half-man/half-swan, who’s half-dressed and smoking hot. He leads a flock of similarly well-sculpted male dancers who thunder and slice across the stage — you can hear their breath heaving — like a gang in feathered breeches.
Obviously, this isn’t your typical “Swan Lake.” The ladies wear cocktail dresses and kitten heels. The only ones in pointe shoes are those romping through a brief, exaggerated dance-within-a-dance that spoofs old-fashioned ballets. The action moves from the palace to a posh theater to a dive bar, where the grinding is deliriously rude. At one point a ringing cellphone shatters the quiet (on purpose).
Yet with all of its updates, Bourne’s production is at essence quite a pure creation. It is faithful to its 19th-century source. Its great strength is the way the contemporary setting and characters refresh themes that will forever feel true. You know the ones: The heart wants what the heart wants. Forbidden romance can bloom in the face of evil, but it won’t be easy.
Society stinks. Love prevails — at a cost.
Structurally, this “Swan Lake” is entirely through-choreographed, often comically (trust me, the royal deodorant-spritzing has never been so elegantly orchestrated). It relies on musical phrasing, fine-drawn physical expression and the unique properties of dance to communicate the story and emotions with exceptional clarity.
The New Adventures dancers are aces all around, particularly James Lovell as the prince, with his beautifully arching leaps and adolescent adorability when he encounters the swan at a city park, just past the trash can. Max Westwell brings an appealing mix of protectiveness and danger to the double role of the swan and the stranger, who arrives at the royal ball in leather pants and seduces everyone there, including the queen. This was a standout moment for Nicole Kabrera, as a queen with a believable fire under her hard shell. As the prince’s girlfriend, Katrina Lyndon added panache and considerable style to a one-dimensional role.
The more familiar you are with the ballet, the more you’ll appreciate how cleverly Bourne fits his narrative to the dramatic swings of Tchaikovsky’s music (which is recorded, not live), and how neatly his over-the-top characters echo the spirit of the original. For this revival, Bourne has added a few elements (like that cellphone) and some new choreography. Yet getting a whole group to dance for an extended passage is not his strength, and certain scenes feel too long — the ball, for instance, and the battle of the swans in the prince’s bedroom.
Perhaps Bourne’s greatest gift is timing, what with the palace intrigue that prompted Megxit and the popularity of Netflix’s “The Crown.” For many, that show will offer more backstory than the original ballet; it’s almost a companion piece, for this production and the series take a similar point of view. At the beginning of Bourne’s “Swan Lake,” the queen enters her son’s bedroom after he wakes in a state from a dream. He reaches out to his mum for consolation, and the way she turns coldly away reminded me of Olivia Colman’s portrayal of the queen in “The Crown” and her son’s pain. He searches her out in one episode only to have her deliver the frosty admonition that he needs to swallow his troubles and get over himself.
A purely fictional scene, undoubtedly, but 25 years ago a similar belief about their bond found its way onstage, and here it is again. Sometimes the coldest winds aren’t found outside. They’re blowing in the bedroom.
Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake,” performed with cast changes through Jan. 26 at the Kennedy Center Opera House. $29-$109. 202-467-4600. kennedy-center.org.