| ~ Matthew Bourne on the casting of Swan Lake ~
Q: The most talked about innovation in AMP's Swan Lake is the casting of a male dancer in the coveted role of Odette/Odile, which you have simply called the Swan. Indeed, all the swans in your production are danced by male dancers. What made you depart from convention in such a radical way?
A: It was just instinct initially; I could see it in my head and I knew it would work. The idea of a male swan makes complete sense to me; the strength, the beauty, the enormous wingspan of these creatures suggests to me the musculature of a male dancer much more readily than a ballerina in a white tutu. The ballerina can successfully suggest the serene beauty of the bird gliding across the water. However, one of the images we studied in rehearsal was a slow-motion film of a swan attacking a small fishing boat (protecting its young, I think) and it was terrifying. We wanted to bring out the swans' more violent nature, particularly in Act IV where the music is at its most overpoweringly dramatic. It was also easier to create new choreography and new images with this sex change. The vision of a ballerina as the swan is so embedded in everyone's consciousness that it would have made it extremely difficult to supplant that image with my own ideas had I used female dancers. By using men, you are wiping away all those mental pictures in the audience's mind and freeing up their imagination, ready to experience something new. I think also that I wanted to experiment with male dancing; to try and create something beautiful and lyrical for male dancers without emasculating them in any way. It was important to me that the swans have a very masculine presence and certainly no suggestion of feyness or camp. I also wanted the swan scenes to be sexually charged, sensual and daring, but without any of the macho thrusting and pouting ego associated with much choreography made for male dancers.
Q: How has the casting of a male dancer in the role of the Swan changed what is after all one of the great romantic ballet fables? Is this a gay Swan Lake?
A: I certainly would not deny that it can be read in this way, but I would suggest that we have gone for something much simpler and more universal. AMP's Swan Lake is about a man with no love in his life. He is rejected by his hopelessly unsuitable girlfriend; his mother, the Queen, cannot express affection for her son yet flaunts her young lovers in his presence; and his restricted royal lifestyle makes it impossible to connect with people without the threat of scandal.
The Swan represents to the Prince everything he wants to be; strong, beautiful and free. He is a kind of alter ego that reflects the mood or state of mind that the Prince is feeling. Their relationship does, however, have a very powerful erotic charge, and, this is important - the lure of the unknown (we should after all remember that the Act II duet is a dance between a man and a bird!)
In purely physical terms the height of the relationship is when the Swan lifts up the Prince and wraps him in its wings, like a child. This is the single most important image in the whole piece because it is so simple and so universal - the need to be held - and everyone can identify with it.
~These excerpts came from an interview included with the Swan Lake video.