Deconstructing Masculinity in Ballet: Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake (1995)


For my paper I propose to look at Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake (1995) in which he reversed the traditional gender roles by employing not only a male Swan but also an entirely male corps-de-ballet. Through this I would like to look at both the construction of masculinity in ballet, the subversion of it as well the challenges is poses to spectatorship.
Neither female nor effeminate, Bourne’s swans are sexually charged, individualised and characterised, providing a stark contrast to the faceless homogeneity of the traditionally female corps de ballet and ‘points out that swans are not necessarily light beings of grace, and in so doing, draws viewers’ attentions to the bio-political control required to produce popular ballet aesthetics’ (Hickey-Moody, 2013:90). Bringing to the forefront that which has been ‘closeted’ in ballet for years, Bourne not only transmutes the relationship that exists between the dancers but also the relationship shared by the audience and the dancers. It is the Prince’s pas-de-deux with the Swan that has been described by Kent Drummond (2003:248) as the first ‘moment of crisis’ for the audience, arguing that by creating and sustaining the male gaze on another man. The unease surrounding this sensuous representation and the refusal of critical coverage in both Britain and the United States of America to accept the homoerotic nature of the ballet illuminates how little sexuality, let alone homosexuality, is explored in within ballet even today.