Have you ever gone somewhere to discover it was NOT what you expected? Such was my experience in seeing Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake
last night. I received an e-mail yesterday that there were inexpensive tickets available to the Tony Award-winning ballet with music by Tchaikovsky. As my friend Melissa and I settled into our cushy third-row seats, I opened my program and glimpsed these words: "Matthew Bourne's controversial all-male Swan Lake." Uh-oh.
I glanced around and noted a higher-than-usual number of men — evidently ballet enthusiasts — surrounding us.
I began frantically paging through the program in hopes of discovering the story line, but the lights went down before I gathered any clues. The ballet opened with a young prince, clearly dissatisfied with royal life and shut out emotionally by his mother the queen. He longs for her affection, but she refuses to give it. He goes to a nightclub in search of love but is met with an empty, sexually-charged atmosphere. Hopeless and conflicted, he decides to commit suicide by drowning himself in the lake.
A flock of swans emerge from the lake and the head swan captures the prince's attention. After several dances, in which the aggressive male birds hiss and fight, the head swan and the flock accept the prince. The prince feels he has discovered who he is (gay?), and with that discovery he experiences a sense of freedom. That night at the royal ball, however, a stranger shows up who looks just like the head swan. But this is an imposter. He dances and seduces the women, including the queen.
Tension escalates to a shoot-out, in which a woman is killed. The prince goes crazy and is subjected to psychotherapy. One night the swans appear to him in his bedroom, and the head swan again offers him loving acceptance. The other swans turn on the head swan and kill him, and the prince dies in despair. The queen enters, and, finding her son dead, weeps and holds him with the tenderness he's always longed for. Above the bed we see the swan, holding in his arms the prince, as if ushering him into heaven.
I have to admit. I started writing this blog in a spirit of humor. After all, there was an undoubtedly funny "wardrobe malfunction" near the end of the show, where the prince mooned us for an extended period of time (His pajama pants got pulled down during the final dance sequence and never recovered). And that, added to the shock of the unexpectedly gay storyline, had Melissa and I in tears by curtain call. But the truth is, I find the story very sad and poignant. Everyone searches for love and acceptance. And we all find it in different ways. The thing that stuck out to me, though, was this: The thing that the prince thought would make him free ended up killing him.
We are about to start a series at church on freedom — how the things we think make us free (money, sex, success) can actually lead to greater bondage. And the things we perceive as threats to freedom (law, God's commands, sacrifice) are the things that can truly free us. Like the prince's, our own attempts at freedom are temporarily satisfying and will ultimately fall short. Only a relationship with Christ can give us the acceptance and freedom we long for.
"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." —John 8:36