Saturday, December 28, 2013

Swan Lake at Sadlers Wells

During the festive season you need something to do that will keep assorted people happy. Glumly, I realised that the Hackney Empire panto last year had only made me happy and had been gruelling for the assembled crew.
This year, we went to Matthew Bourne's most famous ballet at Sadlers Wells. We had been at a daytime party and everyone was yawning on the tube on the way there, but the great thing about Bourne's shows is that they are so entertaining. You just sit there and prepare to be gobsmacked.
I had, of course, read all about this version of Swan Lake with its male swans, but I wasn't prepared for all the other storytelling. In fact, I completely lost the plot halfway through and had to have it explained afterwards (because 'Odile' wasn't dressed in black feathers), but still enjoyed it even more than last year's Sleeping Beauty. Our seats were high up and we could see into the orchestra pit (what a brilliant harp player!), and we could also see the shapes of the dancers, although we missed the facial expressions. There was a lot of deliberately audible breathing which was a really effective dramatic device especially since Bourne's dancers are so fleet of foot and silent most of the time. The lighting was fabulous especially in the story-within-a-story section where gorgeously attired butterflies with little intricately shaped head dresses which were thrown into relief against their backdrop. The obvious joke in that section was the Nokia ringtone that punctuated the storylet, much to the Queen's fury; another less obvious (perhaps) was the woodman in white ballet tights who wielded a giant chopper (fnurr fnurr).
The lighting was also really well done in the prison cell section, where the prince's shadow could reach up to the high window, but he couldn't, and the Queen entered the door normal size but turned into a monstrous giant as she strode to the front of the stage.
Shadows also augmented the flock of swans; we'd watched a documentary about wildlife earlier in the day and it was notable how carefully Bourne had translated the movements of real birds into choreography without going Disney. The power and beauty was there without any anthropomorphic silliness. When the Prince and the Odile-man duetted, they mimicked movements just as the loved-up flamingoes in the African documentary had.
The troupe dancing of the swans was lovely. Obviously I am not a gay man and I didn't find these dancers' bodies erotic at all, but they combined athleticism with grace and fluidity, and it was enthralling to watch them.
The production was full of little memorable details- the white-gloved hands in one part that made a dance of their own; the sleazy nightclub (I must have been in the same ones as Matthew Bourne in the early 1980s). The pacing was perfect, the orchestra tight and the whole thing was a delight from start to finish.
Back next year: I wonder what they'll be dancing next time?

There was another highlight of the season: the Sex Pistols in Huddersfield, playing to children of striking firemen. What a touching film! Johnny Rotten shared the mike with assorted children, and even Sid Vicious managed a lopsided smile. Punk never ceases to amaze me; it was so much supposed to be one thing, but was so much actually another. The Sex Pistols were good clean fun, in a lot of ways. They were truthful and Rotten outgrew McLaren's cynicism very quickly. They were also relatively unexploitative and unsexist which is probably why so many women liked them (yes, we did).
It was nice to see Johna, who wrote to me a few years ago and told me how I'll he had been. Johna later became an avid fan of King Kurt. Johna was looking very stylish, and he had been to the evening concert that was laid on after the children's party. There, the footage showed a sleek and well rehearsed band enjoying a gig that was to be their British swansong.
See what I did just there? Back to swans and time for another mince pie

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