Swan lake with male flock to open da:ns Festival

British choreographer Matthew Bourne's groundbreaking and critically acclaimed interpretation of the classic ballet Swan Lake will be the opening show for this year's da:ns Festival at the Esplanade.

The dance, which is arguably best known for replacing all its female swan characters with an all-male ensemble - including the lead Swan, will run from Oct 9 to 12 at the Esplanade Theatre.

Tickets range from $20 to $120 and will go on sale tomorrow. The rest of the lineup for the popular annual festival will be announced later this year.

Bourne has received numerous plaudits for transforming the elegant Tchaikovsky ballet into a cutting-edge modern classic, with a blend of dance, parody, humour and mime.

It premiered at London's Sadler's Wells Theatre in 1995 and is currently the longest-running ballet on London's West End. The show has garnered more than 30 international awards, including three Tony awards.

Audiences might have caught a glimpse of Bourne's Swan Lake at the conclusion of the Oscar-nominated film Billy Elliot (2000). The traditional Swan Lake, composed by Russian composer Tchaikovsky in the 1870s, is usually staged based on choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov for its 1895 revival at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, Russia.

The original story of Swan Lake is a familiar one. It tells the story of a princess turned into a swan by the curse of an evil sorcerer. Bourne reinterprets and, at points, subverts the plot to tell the tale of a young Prince seeking freedom, which the Swan symbolises.

The New York Times wrote, in 2010: "Like the classical ballet, Mr Bourne's version involves a prince and a swan, but here both are male; his reinterpretation raises the ballet's inherent sexiness and gives Tchaikovsky's music new force."

A recent review from the Telegraph newspaper in London declared: "Bourne's striking reimagining still has the power and passion to move. This revival of his masterpiece feels as modern and relevant as on that first outing."

In another rave review, The Guardian newspaper wrote: "Anyone who ever doubted Bourne's rights to the sublime Tchaikovsky score should have experienced the moment of theatrical catharsis that shivered through Sadler's Wells during this performance."

Olivier-award winner Bourne, 54, has also choreographed a revised Nutcracker (2002) ballet, as well as a production of Edward Scissorhands (2005) based on Tim Burton's cult film starring Johnny Depp. He has choreographed work for many revivals of classic musicals, including Oliver! (1994), My Fair Lady (2001) and Mary Poppins (2004).

Jeffrey Tan, 46, principal of the Singapore Ballet Academy, watched Bourne's Swan Lake in London in the early 2000s and says it was "quite amazing", from the choreography to the costumes and make-up.

He says: "Matthew Bourne is really talented. He made Swan Lake more stylised and very human, so everything is very clean-cut. You don't need big sets to prop up the choreography."

Esplanade producer Faith Tan, who leads the da:ns programming team, says: "Bourne has won over audiences, from newbies to seasoned dancegoers because of his ability to connect to the human condition by telling powerful stories through dance.

"We hope that many will come to celebrate the joy of movement with this timeless tale, which is told through a fresh perspective that is relevant to modern audiences."

Bourne's Swan Lake will tour Tokyo and Shanghai before coming to Singapore. It will also travel to Melbourne in October.

This article was published on April 29 in The Straits Times.

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