Dance, Reviews

Swan Lake (Arts Centre, Melbourne)

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The familiar Tchaikovsky notes exude from the orchestra pit as the stage lights rise on the opening set of Swan Lake. After seeing countless productions of the romantic ballet could Stephen Baynes’ 2012 version for the Australian Ballet inject new thrill into the experience?

The answer is a resounding yes. Retaining the best of the old — the sprightly cygnets, the intense lakeside pas de deux, the dynamic Black Swan solo with its balances and turns that extend human limits — combined with much needed refinement of the role of support characters, Baynes’ production shows how the most traditional of ballets can be made relevant for modern audiences.

Swan Lake has an odd premise. A handsome, rich Prince can choose anyone in the world to marry but instead is captivated by a delicate white swan, Odette. It’s a fairytale, so of course she is held prisoner in the cold, dark lake by the evil Baron von Rothbart, and their fate is doomed.

Thanks to sensitive performances avoiding over-the-top theatrics, the cast connected the story to human experiences in a way that has eluded many other interpretations. The Prince’s melancholy felt real. We could relate to the idea that a person or opportunity that is different to our expected path could unlock our spirit. And many people are trapped by the confines of social expectation, wondering, like the Prince, is it possible to break free?

Bayne’s choreography has a long-lined, lyrical touch, which is perfect for the lean limbs of principal artist Adam Bull as Price Siegfried. Bull portrayed the Prince’s fascination, passion, and ultimate heartbreak with mature truth. He tackled physically challenging solos with calmness, and made complex partner work and lifts look a breeze.

Fluttering delicately onto the stage as the lead white swan Odette, fellow principal Amber Scott doesn’t overtly demand attention, but rather is innately mesmerising. She captured the intricate footwork, powerful back and arm work, immensely fast jumps and turns, and breathtaking balances with a sense of complete serenity.

The cast of swans, led assuredly by Amy Harris and Dimity Azoury reveal their calm upper bodies ‘above the water’, despite the frantic fast moves of their feet below. Baynes offered a fresh take on the traditionally theatrical Cossack and Spanish dancer scenes, stripping back the pomp and ceremony in favour of a more sophisticated sentiment.

Hugh Colman’s set with its palace, ballroom and lake sets were spot on, while costumes, also designed by Colman, included traditional tutus and an array of colourful court outfits. Rachel Burke’s lighting added a looming sense of drama to the dramatic lake scenes.

[box]Swan Lake is the State Theatre, Arts Centre, Melbourne until June 18. Image of Amber Scott and Adam Bull by Daniel Boud.[/box]


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