As the title implies this is not a ‘normal’ Swan Lake and the Monte Carlo troupe, under Jean-Christophe Maillot, is not your standard mixed rep regional dance company – say like Boston Ballet or Birmingham Royal Ballet. So guest choreographers in Monte Carlo include Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Shen Wei, Alonzo King, Lucinda Childs, William Forsythe, Jiri Kylian, Karole Armitage, Maurice Béjart and Marie Chouinard – and you will search in vain for names like Balanchine, MacMillan or Mark Morris, for example. In the last 20 years Maillot has created over 30 ballets for the company including this version of Swan Lake in 2011.
Maillot’s LAC is the work of a confident storyteller who freely changes the drama and reorders the music. While still about an innocent Prince looking for love, the context revolves much more around courtly struggles, kidnap, liaisons and and other trappings of power – think the Ewings in Dallas. Rothbart has morphed into Her Majesty of the Night, more actively pushing her Black Swan daughter who is also a different dancer from the White Swan. The synopsis is broken down into nearly 30 scenes which canter along at breakneck speed. While you might lose sight of all the intricacies, like dropping into Dallas halfway through, you instantly know the motivations of all involved.
The choreography has moved a long way from ballet ballet and this is high-energy, rapid contemporary movement that mixes in lots of clear gestures, including the odd realistic punch. I particularly love what Maillot does with arms – which become scarily expressive hydras and hands that easily waft a “go away – you tire me” gesture. A good-looking company, the dancers are all razor-sharp movers and dramatically literate, none more so than the princesses all vying for the Prince’s hand and who have names like The Vain One, The False Indifferent one, the Voracious One and the Libertines (actually 2 rather charming girls).
All up it’s an entertaining and chic-looking take on Swan Lake, and one where you don’t have to know the original to enjoy it. But I’m glad I have seen a pukka Swan Lake or three – there’s a spiritual dimension to the original that LAC sacrifices for its more real-world take on character.