Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is a prime example of contemporary dance. Taking his influences from aggressive swans, his personal life, and several of his colleagues from the Laban centre where Bourne completed the majority of training, Bourne has recreated Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet. Bourne has given his piece a clear structure, and within it has incorporated dynamics and mood to build tension. A structure is an act of putting together, it is an arrangement of parts and gives each section a syntactical relationship.
Dynamics in this context are the how of dance. This is made up of time, weight, space and flow. Mood is a temporary state of motion or attitude. It is an expression of the manner of an action. Swan Lake is made up of four acts, each of which is broken down into scenes. The prologue and Act one are combined by the fact that they are both situated in the prince’s bedroom. Act two is then broken down into six scenes. Scene two depicts a stereotypical scenario in royal life, the Queen and Prince in a large hall with paparazzi.
We see a different side to both as they put on an image for the public. Scene three is the introduction of the prince’s new girlfriend, who is then permitted to accompany the family to the theatre, which we see in scene four. In scene five, the prince and queen have an argument in the form of a duet, followed by the prince being thrown out of a night club in scene six and seven. Act two is made up of one longer scene, the park. This scene concentrates on the prince’s experiences with the swans.
The same structure is followed in Acts four and five, during which the Queen holds a ball where the prince thinks he recognises the swan from the previous scene, and becomes so distraught that he becomes delirious and as a result of his depression dies. It is in the prologue that we see the queen’s true feelings for her son. Throughout this piece Matthew Bourne follows a narrative structure, common in contemporary dance and comparable to the work of Lea Anderson and Busby Berkley. This is evident as scenes clearly follow on from each other.
Take for example the recognition of the main swan in Act three. We can also follow a plot. There are several subsidiary story lines in the piece, for instance the scandal of the secretary. There are clues throughout which indicate to the audience that he is the enemy, thus making the structure recognisable as ‘story like’, as in flowing, and chronological. Within this structure, each scene can be broken down further. The way in which Matthew Bourne uses dynamics, helps to build the tension in the dance.
There are several scenes in which time is used to create tension. In scene five; the argument between the prince and queen, dynamics are shown by the tempo at which the duet is performed. On occasion, the gesture of reaching out on the princes behalf is slowed in order to be highlighted, yet in contrast, aggressiveness on the queen’s behalf, for instance slaps and throwing the prince away is shown by a quicker tempo. Another segment of dynamics is weight. An example of how this is used is in Act two in the park.
The duet between Prince Seigfried and the main Swan includes lifts and falls, these indicate passion, as they are exaggerated, strong and aggressive. This scene is also an example of flow, in the free sense. We can see a great contrast between the swan’s movements, from being gliding and graceful to the contact work in which the swan uses a quicker tempo to signify aggression, and uses more bound and sharp movements. There a many examples of how Matthew Bourne has made effective use of space throughout the dance. Levels are used continually.
Take for instance scene three, the palace ballroom. The duet between the young man and the queen uses all elements of the dynamic structure resulting in high tension, between both the audience and the prince himself. Finally, Matthew Bourne has showed mood in a number of ways, resulting in many degrees of tension. An example of this is the argument between the prince and his mother. The set includes a mirror, which enables the audience to view the expressions of both dancers without jeopardising their relationship and the tension between them.
Other ways in which set is used to show mood is in Act two. Dull lighting and a nighttime scene indicate depression, which reflects the mood of the prince. This is also evident in the prince’s private quarters, where we can see the walls are dark and the room is of a cold nature. Also in scene seven outside the club, a sense of depression is put across to the audience by means of a dark set and the proxemics of the characters, as the price is alone and there is a group of people to one side of him. I feel this is an instance where space and dynamics have been used to create tension.
Obviously movement is the main element of the piece, which portrays mood, and, considering the narrative structure of the play many movements are reasonably gestured. Take for instance scene four, the theatre. The queen’s movement in this scene remains gestured. By keeping her back to the rest of the family she is showing her mood. She is also reinforcing the idea her loveless relationship with her son and her superiority over his girlfriend. In conclusion, Matthew Bourne has linked structure, dynamics and mood to create tension throughout his piece. He has done so in many different ways all of which relate to each other.