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Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake in Denver


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:wink: I must have gone to the wrong theatre last night… I went to see M.B. Swan Lake… and what I saw could never be mistaken for Swan Lake in any form, contemporary or not. I see why Lez Brotherston won a Tony award for set and costume design; they are very good. The set is a mirror of his set for the Hunchback of Notre Dame in many ways. The orchestra was outstanding; the music was good but became too repetitive towards the end... Tchaikovsky gone long. The choreography was excellent… I wish the dancers could have kept up with it, their timing was atrocious. The dancing was hot and cold; inconsistent to extremes. The storyline was implausible, incongruent, disjointed, and erratic; and the whole show was far too long. Lastly, much to my chagrin, it was homoerotic to a fault. I’ve been assuring people for a year and half that it is not, that I would take my children to see it, that this once in a lifetime cannot be missed by any age. I was sorely mistaken.

I have seen many productions, in a myriad of formats. This was hands down the worst show I have ever seen. I hated it. I went with a large group of people, most of them from CB, and only a few actually liked it. The dancers, for the most part, didn’t think much of it at all.

There were some interesting moments… in the first act the ‘would be’ dumb-blonde tramp princess is at a faux ballet with the prince and his mother when her cell phone rings… an anachronism considering the rest of the show is seemingly set in the roaring 20’s, (funny though… everyone in the theatre gasped and started looking around to see if it was their own phone that was ringing… ha ha…). The second act begins with a wonderful waltz that quickly goes awry when ‘Rothbart’ comes strolling in on the balustrade of the palace balcony and attempts to seduce everyone on the stage… the first part of that scene was nice, the rest was not. There really wasn’t much more worth noting.

In a word; the production was dirty. If I wanted to see trash, I’d go down to Colfax St., that’s 2.5 hours of my life that I will never get back again.

There were obviously people who enjoyed it; there was thunderous applause from a large portion of the audience, but not from me, and not from most of the people around me. I believe this is one that falls into the ‘…to each his own’ category.

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I must have gone to the wrong theatre last night.

I was seriously thinking that. I barely got there in time, as I underestimated how icy the roads would be, and the usher was too frazzled by all the last-minute arrivals to hand out programs. I finally decided that the odds of the only seat in my row not taken when I got there being the one matched the number on my ticket was just too great to be a coincidence. I was wishing that there were breaks between scenes so I could have borrowed a program from someone just to be sure.

If I wanted to see trash, I’d go down to Colfax St.

At least porno flicks usually have some semblance of a plot.

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Sorry to hear you were so disappointed. It probably is worse if you were expecting anything resembling "Swan Lake". I'm afraid I'm not the best defender of this production. I've only seen it on video, and while I wasn't offended I thought it was thin. All that Tchaikovsky and so little choreography.

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Looking at various websites of venues that are part of this tour, I can see that people might easily be misled into thinking they were seeing something close to a more or less traditional Swan Lake.

Not everyone was aware of the publicity this version received in the 1990s, or even the national television broadcast. The huge changes in plot and sexual orientation must have been a shock This was apparently part of the problem in Denver, and I suspect that the agencies presenting it will hear about it from some of their patrons.

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Looking at various websites of venues that are part of this tour, I can see that people might easily be misled into thinking they were seeing something close to a more or less traditional Swan Lake.

Not everyone was aware of the publicity this version received in the 1990s, or even the national television broadcast.  The huge changes in plot and sexual orientation must have been a shock  This was apparently part of the problem in Denver, and I suspect that the agencies presenting it will hear about it from some of their patrons.

Having seen a play last year about a man who was having sex with a goat, Swan Lake hardly was shocking to me. I've had a number co-workers who were homosexuals, so I'm really not uncomfortable with homosexuality. I do think that it was unfair to use the title "Swan Lake", which seems to me to be a cheap way to trick people into attending.

At the intermission, a woman who sitting next to me and had noticed that I frequently checked my watch (trying to guess how much longer until the intermission) said to me "You kept checking your watch. John Wilkes Booth also checked his watch frequently." I replied "I don't think that Abe Lincoln is here tonight. This show just isn't my thing." She said "So you don't like ballet?"

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"I don't think that Abe Lincoln is here tonight. This show just isn't my thing." She said "So you don't like ballet?"

Sigh. Paging Alexandra. It was statements like this that made her start Ballet Talk way back when as a place where those distinctions matter. For most people though, if you give them great costumes, the Tchaikovsky and a theatrical evening, it's all good, and what's the difference? I guess you've earned a second "Welcome to Ballet Talk", YouOverThere, because now you know why you're here. :wink:

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At the intermission, a woman who sitting next to me and had noticed that I frequently checked my watch (trying to guess how much longer until the intermission) said to me "You kept checking your watch. John Wilkes Booth also checked his watch frequently." I replied "I don't think that Abe Lincoln is here tonight. This show just isn't my thing." She said "So you don't like ballet?"

Leigh - Most of the audience was perhaps under the impression that this was a more classical rendition; but I however, was not. I researched it, studied it, taught about it... and I DIDN'T WATCH THE VIDEO - It was the only thing I didn't make time for and should have. UGH!!! I knew... but I had no idea. Wow. I think it's very likely that the experience of the production differs greatly from the video.

Youoverthere... this didn't happen to be an older lady with white hair cropped at the shoulder with bulky glasses who looks exactly like the old navy lady... was it? ha ha ha....

Golden Gate

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Sigh.  Paging Alexandra.  It was statements like this that made her start Ballet Talk way back when as a place where those distinctions matter.  For most people though, if you give them great costumes, the Tchaikovsky and a theatrical evening, it's all good, and what's the difference?  I guess you've earned a second "Welcome to Ballet Talk", YouOverThere, because now you know why you're here.  :wink:

You beat me to it, Leigh.

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"I don't think that Abe Lincoln is here tonight. This show just isn't my thing." She said "So you don't like ballet?"

Sigh. Paging Alexandra. It was statements like this that made her start Ballet Talk way back when as a place where those distinctions matter. For most people though, if you give them great costumes, the Tchaikovsky and a theatrical evening, it's all good, and what's the difference? I guess you've earned a second "Welcome to Ballet Talk", YouOverThere, because now you know why you're here. :wink:

The REALLY bad thing about this is, if memory serves me correctly, that prior to the intermission there wasn't really all that much dancing and the only "ballet" dancing was the "faux ballet" that Golden Gate mentioned in his/her review.

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I did an abbreviated search on the Internet and found lots of glowing reviews of Swan Lake and only 2 negative reviews. Both of the negative reviews were in ballet (or serious dance)-specific publications, including one in an online magazine that had some connection with this site (balletalert). This interested me in view of the thread about ballet being elitist. It made me wonder if I've become some sort of art snob.

Did I dislike Swan Lake so much because I was comparing it to a ballet rather than judging it on its on terms? Was it really as bad as I'm making it out to be? Would I have liked it more if I had known beforehand that it was a play rather than a ballet (or even modern dance)? Do so many people like it and I don't because I think that I'm too "sophisticated" for a "popular" show? because it's more commercial than artistic in orientation? Or was it because I've seen so many high-level professional dance performances while this might have been the best dance performance that most of the audience has ever seen? If everyone else had the same experiences that I've had would Swan Lake be much less popular than it is?

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I did an abbreviated search on the Internet and found lots of glowing reviews of Swan Lake and only 2 negative reviews. Both of the negative reviews were in ballet (or serious dance)-specific publications, including one in an online magazine that had some connection with this site (balletalert). This interested me in view of the thread about ballet being elitist. It made me wonder if I've become some sort of art snob.

Well, there's no telling why the criticism doesn't gibe with your experience. Critics sometimes have any number of reasons to praise too highly. We had a discussion about that very question here. (The events that kicked this off are here.)
Do so many people like it and I don't because I think that I'm too "sophisticated" for a "popular" show? because it's more commercial than artistic in orientation? Or was it because I've seen so many high-level professional dance performances while this might have been the best dance performance that most of the audience has ever seen?

Or all of the above? But there is good popular, commercial entertainment. Not a lot, but it exists.

Thanks for posing these important questions.

:tiphat:

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Youoverthere, you raise some interesting questions. It sounds like Bourne's Swan Lake really shocked you. I sympathize.

I had hte opposite response to yours. Bourne's version made me cry and cry, especially at hte end -- but I appreciate your sense that Swan Lake is precious, and htat one's response to it is a matter of great delicacy and something that needs to be defended. Swan Lake does come close to being holy.

I did not feel that "Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake" (which is what they call the video, which is the only version I've seen yet) was commercial entertainment, but rather is a consistent and radical but compelling reinterpretation of the myth, with a great classical dancer, Adam cooper, in the role of the Swan.

I don't know what "Swan Lakes" you've seen before -- the version that broke MY heart and made me a balletomane was the Royal Ballet's -- Ashton's version of Sergeyev's reconstruction of the 1895 original. It was a lot like a Shakespearean tragedy. and I felt that Bourne's version kept true to those values, while updating it to the era of Princess Diana/Fergie.

Most Ballet Alert folk seem to disdain Bourne's version -- though some of us don't. And balletomanes as fastidious as Clement Crisp have admired it. Admittedly, he's a Brit. but I agree with him almost word-for-word. If you're curious, here's the link to his thoughts on the matter:

http://news.ft.com/cms/s/e18f3fb0-4a51-11d...000e2511c8.html

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Did I dislike Swan Lake so much because I was comparing it to a ballet rather than judging it on its on terms? Was it really as bad as I'm making it out to be? Would I have liked it more if I had known beforehand that it was a play rather than a ballet (or even modern dance)?

I thought about this yesterday... I was speaking to a patron of CB who'd purchased season tickets and was heading out to see this show in a couple of days. I told her what thought (see the opening remarks at the beginning) and she was so surprised and disappointed. So I back pedaled a bit, and I told her that it was entirely possible that she might enjoy it... I said, don't go in expecting the story of Swan Lake. Don't go in expecting ballet. It's a theatrical production with some dance. Go in knowing that it's a Broadway show about a prince in a cold dark world who falls in love with a male swan, and they can only be together in death. If I had known that, if I wasn't expecting ballet... I might have enjoyed it (the dancers were off though... bad dancing)... but entering in a different frame of mind might have altered my opinions.

Good pointe... You.

Golden Gate

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Youoverthere, you raise some interesting questions. It sounds like Bourne's Swan Lake really shocked you. I sympathize.

I don't know if "shocked" really carries the proper connotation. I felt totally empty about the whole thing. As far as I was concerned, they gave me nothing to hang onto. I never learned enough about the characters to develop any feelings towards them. Perhaps if I had been able to read the program beforehand and knew who was who and what the plot was, I would have gotten into it more. But to me it just came off as a series of scenes that weren't advancing a storyline. And if I hadn't gone to see the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet the evening before, I might not have been so critical of the dance scenes. But IMHO the dancers in Swan Lake were not comparable to the dancers in the ASFB. I think that The Denver Post's critic summed up my feelings well in a single sentence in his review: "Perhaps the most troubling amid the plethora of exaggerated, over-the-top theatrics is this production's lack of an emotional heart and soul."

http://www.denverpost.com/entertainment/ci_3518266

Of course, it's always dangerous to draw conclusions based on a single viewing. I love Prokofiev's 6th symphony, but I had to listen to it 4 or 5 times before it stopped sounding like a series of unrelated elements.

What motivated me to question myself was a brief email exchange that I had with the Rocky Mountain News critic, who really loves the production. I had emailed him to say I thought that the statement in his preview of Swan Lake "The original plotline never added up." was quite ironic given my perception that the Bourne version was lacking in plot. I had assumed that the statement was a paraphrase of something Bourne had said, but in fact it was the critic's opinion. His response was essentially that if I didn't like the Bourne version it was because I'm narrow-minded. That seemed even more ironic since I enjoyed the (apparently heavily criticized) hip-hop dance piece that the CB did last year so much that I went back to see it a second time.

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That seemed even more ironic since I enjoyed the (apparently heavily criticized) hip-hop dance piece that the CB did last year so much that I went back to see it a second time.

The hip hop piece is in reference to "Earth Tribe" the Rennie Harris part of the 2004-2005 triple bill that CB presented last year. It was very dark - beyond sad to the point of 'soul hollowing', it was extremely contemporary, and it was not well recieved at ALL until it was decided that Martin Fredmann would go out on stage before the curtain went up and explain what the choreographer had created, and the vision that he was trying to get across to the audience. After that, the patrons were much more receptive because they had a base concept of what the point was... essentially.

For this though... the synopsis was difficult to find... in the last part of an 'article' more about Matthew Bourne than the production that was about to be experienced. Maybe if the patrons could be introduced to a definitive storyline before the curtain rises... but who can second guess fate. Bottom line, didn't enjoy.

Next?

GG

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The hip hop piece is in reference to "Earth Tribe" the Rennie Harris part of the 2004-2005 triple bill that CB presented last year.  It was very dark - beyond sad to the point of 'soul hollowing', it was extremely contemporary, and it was not well recieved at ALL until it was decided that Martin Fredmann would go out on stage before the curtain went up and explain what the choreographer had created, and the vision that he was trying to get across to the audience.  After that, the patrons were much more receptive  because they had a base concept of what the point was... essentially. 

I know that I'm getting off subject, but this seems to fit in with 'elitist' discussion. Apparently, few ballet-goers in Denver had much of a conception of what it's like growing up in a ghetto. The first time that I saw it was before Fredmann started giving his little chat, and I thought that it was pretty obvious what the dance was about (and I'm a life-long suburbanite white guy).

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"I don't think that Abe Lincoln is here tonight. This show just isn't my thing." She said "So you don't like ballet?"

Sigh. Paging Alexandra. It was statements like this that made her start Ballet Talk way back when as a place where those distinctions matter. For most people though, if you give them great costumes, the Tchaikovsky and a theatrical evening, it's all good, and what's the difference? I guess you've earned a second "Welcome to Ballet Talk", YouOverThere, because now you know why you're here. :thanks:

I sent an email to the Denver Center for Performing Arts complaining that their promotion of Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake as a "re-invention" of Swan Lake misled people into thinking that they were going to see a ballet. Their response was that you could make valid arguments both that it is and that it isn't a ballet. :rolleyes:

I hope that there isn't too much fall-out for the Colorado Ballet from MBSW. A friend who was already waffling about renewing her CB season tickets told me that MBSW has made her more reluctant to renew.

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Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake just opened in Los Angeles - and I thought it was just fantastic. It is of course NOT the classical Swan Lake, but I found it a wonderful, very individual version with its own very valid story to tell. Its clear in the lakeside scenes that Bourne is respectful of the Swan Lake and ballet traditions - the choreography for the male swans has portions that are reminiscent of the Ivanov choreography - but he never means to be "classical" ballet. These are not pretty, quivering swans but menacing, powerful creatures. Bourne's work is contemporary dance theatre: dance specifically involved in narrative. Even when he is doing a parody of ballet (in Act 1, set to the Pas de Trois music, the main characters go to the opera house and see a kind of demonic Les Sylphides meets Swan Lake's Von Rothbart), ballet fans will knowingly laugh and enjoy this. And the story: a Prince disillusioned with the royal society he has been born into, driven to nearly commit suicide by throwing himself into the lake before the swans appear as a life-affirming vision. I was engaged throughout. Bourne's choreography in and of itself may not live on like Ivanov's in gala extracts, but it is the choreography as well as the concept that works wonderfully.

I will give, though, that if I was expecting a classical Swan lake and got this instead, I might have been disappointed. It's certainly much different.

But LA is largely familiar with Matthew Bourne. Every major piece of his since Swan Lake has been presented at the Ahmanson Theatre, and many of them were exclusive US engagements. And at its American premiere in 1997, Swan Lake caused a huge stir in LA before heading off to Broadway to win several awards. So its return here this week was greeted with a prolonged standing ovation at last night's opening.

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I noticed that the current Wikipedia article on Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake refers to it as a ballet. Does anyone have a problem with that?
If that's not a call to arms, I'm not sure what is :)
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"We're off to see Paul Taylor tonight."

"What's the program?"

"Arden Court, Black Tuesday and I forget the other ballet."

Paul Taylor has written that he really, really dislikes the word "ballet" applied to what he does, but my friends and I use it this way all the time, referring to individual works as "ballet," even when the discipline required to perform them is not.

So is the missing Paul Taylor piece any more a ballet than Bourne's so-called Swan Lake? I think it the latter is a ballet, in the sense of a staged dance, but I question whether it's okay to call it Swan Lake.

Then again, it is to the eponymous Tchaikovsky score, and it is about long-necked water birds, so Swan Lake is probably what it is.

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Martha Graham used to call her works ballets. And then there are companies with "ballet" in the title -- Les Ballets Africains was just in town (Seattle) last weekend.

And the gods know that the old court ballets were more like the circus than anything else!

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And then there are companies with "ballet" in the title -- Les Ballets Africains was just in town (Seattle) last weekend.

How true. Every once in awhile while posting links I come across a company of which I haven't heard much with 'ballet' or 'ballets' in its title, and I have to peruse the article more carefully than usual to ensure the company is an actual ballet company.

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