It is a tribute to the staying power of Tchaikovsky’s wonderful ballet Swan Lake that there was a full house and a buzz of anticipation for the opening night. I was fortunate to have with me a 16-year-old who was witnessing her first Swan Lake and thus came without too many preconceptions. I, on the other hand, first saw the ballet when I was about seven years old and, like many in the audience, have seen many interpretations including ballets with all-male casts, one playing it for laughs, another adding an edge to the drama.
Graham Murphy’s Swan Lake of a decade ago was a landmark, not just for Australian choreography but for the interpretation of this ballet in modern times. So it was interesting to see how a traditional production with choreography by Stephen Baynes would be accepted. Baynes used the well-tried Kirov version for Act Two and his own choreography for the other three acts. The result was a seamless presentation of what some people might call the “real” Swan Lake.
Orchestra Victoria should be mentioned from the outset, as its performance was a triumph, both for the ensemble and for many soloists within its ranks, notably the violinist playing during the evil von Rothbart’s supposed performance on that instrument. (Presumably this was concertmaster Roger Jonsson). Conducted by Andrew Mogrelia, the orchestra not only supported the dancers, it stood out as a performer in its own right. The atmospheric overture indicates to the audience immediately how things will be and in this case we knew all would be well. Hugh Coleman’s costume and set design and Rachel Burke’s lighting all supported the presentation of a traditional Swan Lake yet had a fresh and appealing look.
The tableau presented at the outset was of the death of Siegfried’s father, thus lending an urgency to the need of the heir to find a suitable bride. Adam Bull as Prince Siegfried added an easy grace to his trademark strengths, notably his lifting and supporting leading ladies, in this case a regular partner, Amber Scott, as Odette/Odile. Bull did well in an early long solo, with suitable introspection conveyed. (Only one jarring note struck me as he carried a single rose – an alarming reminder of a certain television show! Fortunately this possibility was not explored.)
There was good support for the soloists from the outset from the corps whose work was as polished and together as always. The suite of swan dances was given due respect, and the “character” dances sat comfortably in the ballroom scene. Von Rothbart was a little melodramatic, but that is often the case. Menace was more effectively suggested by the visuals particularly the hovering wings of the lake scene. Von Rothbart, by contrast, seemed more like a vaudeville character when he played the violin in his black villain’s coat!
This is no reflection on the performance of Brett Simon, but the honours for menace went to Amber Scott in her performance as his daughter, Odile. As well as the technical brilliance required, the Black Swan needs to show a hard edge to her seductive moves, and triumph when she succeeds in winning the Prince. This Scott did, so successfully that when she re-appeared as Odette for the final Act, it seemed like a different dancer had taken her place.
There is always interest in how the ballet will be resolved in the final scene. This is no place for a spoiler, so I will just say it was a fitting end to the drama in a ballet which asserted the worth of a traditional interpretation – and thoroughly delighted my companion!
The picture of Amber Scott and Adam Bull in The Australian Ballet production of Swan Lake Baynes is by Daniel Boud.
The Australian Ballet season of Swan Lake finishes on June 18, with many performances already sold out. Read about other popular ballets in this year’s season.