L-R: Andrew Monaghan (left), Will Bozier (center) and company in Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre. © 2019 Craig Schwartz Photography

‘Tis the season for the Nutcracker, but it’s Swan Lake that’s commanding attention. Not for nothing is Sir Matthew Bourne’s production company called New Adventures. If you’re a ballet aficionado, you’re familiar with the Tchaikovsky classic, Swan Lake, about a prince who falls in love with a beautiful woman, who has been changed by a sorcerer into a swan by day and a human by night. In Bourne’s adventurous Swan Lake, now in a return engagement at The Ahmanson Theatre, the story has been completely upended and made contemporary. And it is an astonishing spectacle to behold.

Bourne’s version was first presented in 1995 and sent the ballet world into a tizzy because it featured an all-male dance cast as the swans. Bourne’s ballet begins with projections of an illustrated, animated, silhouetted swan winging across the scrim, and opens on an enormous bed, with the Prince thrashing and awakened by the nightmare of battling a swan.

ALL MALE SWANS

The Prince has a pretty terrible Queen mother (she’s a randy one, too!) and he’s looking for love in all the wrong places. While cold-hearted mama wants the prince to settle down with a woman worthy of his status (even while she flirts with a muscular military officer), the Prince’s Girlfriend is an ambitious ditzy thing, wearing baby doll costumes and committing relentless social faux pas. It’s clear he’s not that nuts about her anyway.

The Girlfriend, the Prince, the Queen and the Evil Private Secretary occupy a box at the Opera House, watching the performance of a hilariously witty ballet spoof, The Moth Maiden (Mari Kamata plays it to the max) during which the Girlfriend manages to upset the apple cart by using her cellphone, laughing out loud, and dropping her purse on the floor outside the box and grabbing one of the dancers to pick it up for her. The Queen and Private Secretary do not approve.

Next, in a scene worthy of a noir movie, set in a nightclub with remarkably fluid dancers pairing off to gyrate and twerk sensually and blatantly, the Prince witnesses the girlfriend being paid off to go away by the evil Private Secretary. Feeling betrayed by the only person whom he believed loves him, the Prince sets off at night to a park, writes a suicide note, posting it on a lamppost, and plans to jump in the lake – until a strapping, swaggering swan and his all-male crew surround and enrapture him, and he falls in love.

The male swans are the most revolutionary thing about Bourne’s Swan Lake. The corps of dancers is a majestic group of men who flaunt their bare-chested strength and their balletic grace by equal turns, appearing both menacing and caressing; their dancing is at once athletic and stunningly beautiful.

BEDAZZLED AND BETRAYED

Later, at a royal ball, the lead swan becomes The Stranger in human form, and he taunts the Prince, who is obviously lovelorn, by flirting with everyone in the room, including a very tawdry seduction of the Queen. While attracted to the Stranger who is clad in tight black clothing, the Prince is first rebuffed and then outraged by his behavior; he pulls out a gun and threatens to shoot The Stranger but accidentally kills the Girlfriend instead.

By now the Prince has been taken away to an asylum and while sleeping, dreams about the swans. Waking up, he searches under the bed and while the swans dance around him, the lead swan emerges from a hole in the bed (amazing scene). Now that they are together the Prince and the Swan join together lovingly, only to be defeated by the bevy of swans who are jealous of the relationship. They tear him and the lead swan to pieces, and the Queen is devasted to find her son dead. But the Prince and his swan lover are reunited in death.

To say that this is a tour-de-force performance just isn’t strong enough praise. The ballet is double-cast and on opening night, Will Bozier commanded the stage as the Swan and the Stranger, Andrew Monaghan broke hearts as the Prince. The Queen was decidedly chilly and regal as played by Nicole Kubota. Katrina Lyndon brought much laughter and humor to her role as the girlfriend. And the conniving Private Secretary was brought to haughty and villainous life by Jack Jones.

If you see only one ballet this season or year, make it Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. https://www.centertheatregroup.org/tickets/ahmanson-theatre/2019-20/matthew-bournes-swan-lake/

BERGAMOT AT 25

This Saturday, enjoy a day of Art, Food and Entertainment at Bergamot Arts Station’s Annual Winter Open House. Admission is free, and festivities run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., featuring open gallery tours, food trucks, live music and other entertainment. This is the 25th anniversary of Bergamot, so take time out to appreciate this treasure in our midst.

Many changes are planned for this unique Santa Monica landmark, including the possibility of adding a hotel and creative offices, a bike hub and an expansion of restaurants, community space and arts-related uses.

Bergamot Station Arts Center is an internationally renowned creative arts complex, boasting some 20 fine art galleries and creative businesses. The galleries present regular and diverse rotating exhibitions featuring artists from all over the globe and across all mediums.

More information is available at https://bergamotstation.com/events/2019/12/14/winter-open-house.

Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.

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