Review: Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake


The super-homoerotic production of Tchaikovsky’s most beloved ballet, currently running at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, left David Mullane breathless.


The production of Swan Lake running at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre this week is unlike any other production of the ballet you will ever see. The full name of the production is Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake and, according to Bourne, its director and choreographer, it’s not even a ballet, but could be “more aptly described as contemporary/dance theatre”.

It’s a reworking of the world’s most beloved ballet with male dancers replacing the traditional chorus of female swans, with the central love story taking place instead between a prince and a male swan. Ballet is a sensual art but this production swells with eroticism and bold physicality.

As a sheer spectacle of human physical rigour, the show is awesome. Even from the back of the stalls, you can feel the pounding of the dancers’ bare feet on the stage, as they leap and charge about. You can hear their athletic breathing and see their chests heaving in trained exertion, the sheen of sweat on their bare chests and backs caught by the lights of the set. Such are the demands on the dancers’ bodies that the company’s physiotherapist sits in on every show, often replacing dancers during act breaks.

And, what a set! Lez Brotherston’s design is one of exaggerated style, with oversized columns, preposterously scaled props and stark blacks and whites. Combined with his beautiful costumes, which gather late 19th century and late 20th century references together in a playful manner, and Rick Fisher’s evocative lighting, the mise en scène suggests that this story plays out on a large Russian chessboard.

Despite the fact that the touring production doesn’t boast a live orchestra, Tchaikovsky’s score swoops and soars from the theatre’s sound system and is the first element of the show to greet you and the last one that lingers as you leave the theatre.

If you have never attended a ballet before, this should be the one. Bourne’s ballet is accessible to modern audiences without pandering to pop culture or compromising high art or debasing Tchaikovsky’s score. With light touches of humour, expressed through props, suggestive dance moves that are delivered with knowing winks, and slightly re-imagined plots and characters (the programme lists such roles as porn star, TV presenter, pop idol, the girlfriend, Quentin Crisp, club owner and rent boy), Bourne’s interpretation of the classic tale delivers an enlivened and fresh production of a timeless work of art.

Aside from the gloriousness of the production itself, another thought you’re left with at the end of the show is how lucky we are to have the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin, a receiving house with the facilities and the booking power to bring to us such incredible productions. With a full season of wonderful shows to come, such as the National Theatre’s War Horse and Singin’ In The Rain, fresh from the West End, we’re a lucky city indeed.

Book your tickets HERE.


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