What I Learned from Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake

What I Learned from Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake – a dramatic story told through contemporary body movement 

On Saturday, I was in London for my Stott Pilates intensive reformer course. Actually, I’ve been in London a lot recently for courses! On one of those visits to London, I was travelling by tube to my course (feeling very much like a true Londoner, commuting at the same times as the Londoners travel for work!). I saw a poster/billboard advertising Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake.

I’d already heard about how great the performance was in the past, so it caught my eye that it was back in London. I looked at the dates and noticed it was playing on one of the dates I would be in London. Mental note to self: “Get a ticket to see the performance when I’m there for my course!” Well, the good news is, I did manage to get a ticket. I saw the performance on Saturday evening at the New Wimbledon Theatre after my course was finished for the day. 🙂 Yay!

Now I’d heard various things about Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake over the years, as it has been playing around the world for around 15 years. It’s the production that was shown at the end of the movie Billy Elliott.

I’d heard that Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake was called the male Swan Lake and that it was a ballet. Quite to my pleasant surprise it was neither. Not that I don’t love a great ballet, because I do!

However, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake turned out to be a dramatic mix of theatre and contemporary dance. The swans were male rather than the traditional female swans, but there were still approximately ten female dancers in the production. It was interesting and different from the traditional Swan Lake ballet.

The Power of Movement and Actions

What I really took away from the performance is that movement and actions are such a powerful tool. This performance used no speech, yet a story filled with comedy, love, happiness, anger, sadness and more was told.

I’ve often found in my study of theatre and acting that sometimes words can take away from a performance. When words are used, there has to be the right balance of speech and the absence of speech. The great thing about telling a story through dance is that words won’t overpower the movement.

What is meant to be told and more can be developed through facial expression, actions, and movements of the body. When there are no words, it is often interesting how we can pick up much more subtle parts to a story that we may have missed otherwise.

For example, when the swans were on the stage, deep breathing and a sighing type of sound was used with the group of male dancers. It added to the movements and music that were used at that exact time. Would this have been so powerful or even noticed if words were used in the piece? Probably not.

A Challenge

Try thinking about your actions more this week. You could choose an hour of each day. Do your same work schedule, but notice what you are doing with your body.

What are your actions saying to your family, friends, teachers, coaches, or colleagues? Maybe after a day – or after 10 minutes, you will think of an action you’d like to do that day or add into your day. Go for it! Remember that even the simple action of giving flowers to someone can brighten their day, and you often feel great, too!

If you are preparing for a performance, whether it is a play, competition, dance performance, concert, presentation, or other performance, try thinking through your movements and actions in your performance. What do you do here … what is there? I don’t necessarily mean analyze an entire two-hour play and its movements (although you can do this to really add that finishing touch!), but think about what character you want to put across to your audience.

What are you wanting your audience members to get out of this performance – and even more, how do you want them to feel? If you really feel in your body and let your movement and performance come from within, you will often touch and affect many more audience members in a positive way!

What action or movement worked for you this week? I’d love to hear what you are going to try out, and/or what works!

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