Dirtying up traditional high art is an easy way to attract attention, but too often a cynical touch of Tarantino or a fashionable squeeze of Luhrmann only serves to curdle a classical performance. Swan Lake Reloaded avoids the charge of cheap thrill-seeking by re-imagining the story as a backstreet tragedy from the inside out.
Yes, the swans here are prostitutes in white furs and synthetic wigs but the conceit is not superficial. In the original fairy-tale the alluring birds are actually young girls doomed to spend half the day in animal form, trapped by a sorcerer’s spell. This version has them trapped by the bags of smack they are given in exchange for a hard night’s work, the sorcerer their parasitic pimp. There are clever subversions throughout, like Prince Siegfried – now a Eurotrash playboy whose misguided attempt to help his dream-girl ultimately makes him complicit in her death (a climactic scene that’s as spectacular as it is grotesque).
The intelligence of Fredrik Rydman’s interpretation is well matched by his choreography – non-stop hip-hop that sweeps the audience through even the two or three less interesting scenes set in the royal court. The moves are at times sloppy and jerky and there’s little of the elegant ballet you might be expecting, but this fits the grand scheme and the scratchy remixed Tchaikovsky.
It’s all about energy – the characters’ steps fuelled by the peaks and troughs of their narcotics. When one girl suffers withdrawal symptoms for example, scuttling cockroaches are projected onto her limbs to trigger a solo routine made up of writhing, scratching and screaming. And while it looks frantic and messy clearly each scratch has been meticulously planned and co-ordinated to amplify the sense of desperation. Elsewhere, other dark emotions like greed, lust and power propel the dancers' movements; there isn’t any place for a delicate pas de deux.
Special mention has to go to Daniel Koivunen as the vampiric pimp Rothbart, whose every strained sinew expresses evil, his male model looks contrasting with his prowling insectoid presence. He first appears on stage like a nightmarish cross between Steve Jobs and Jack the Ripper, orchestrating the lives of his whores through futuristic social media tools – Fatebook perhaps. Soon after that he is making his girls dance for the kerb-crawlers by rubbing themselves with dead fish. This demonic daddy long legs is one of the most unsettling villains you’ll ever see – and all the more frightening for being so real and believable.
The bold staging is consistently excellent and considering this travelling show from Sweden is only stopping over at the London Coliseum for a week its crisp sense of invention and cool execution puts many permanent West End shows to shame. Sets, costumes and special effects combine seamlessly to enhance this mesmerising work of art.
If the production has a flaw it’s that the heart gets a little lost in the miasma. Perhaps this is inevitable when the lovers at the centre are a hedonistic aristotwat and a hooker strung out on heroin. Then again, what doesn’t quite grab the gut in the theatre stays in the head long after the curtains come down.
Swan Lake Reloaded is on at the London Coliseum until 10 August 2013, tickets £10-£65. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary press ticket.