Swan Lake is a four act ballet, but it’s really the second and fourth acts, when the stage is awash with etherial, shimmering swan formations, that draw the crowds. Understandably, audiences want the swans in all their classical and tutu-ed glory. It’s hard to go past the clean unison and perfect spiraling circles of delicate ballerinas, all working together to create a harmonious and other-worldly vision.
Choreographer Derek Deane (former artistic director of the English National Ballet) is no stranger to ballet as spectacle. He’s choreographed three large scale ballets in the round and his arena production of Swan Lake toured Australia back in 1999.
This version of Swan Lake, which he staged for The Shanghai Ballet in 2015, doesn’t reach full arena proportions, but it does rock the scale on the swan meter and delivers great bang for buck when it comes to the serene, precise beauty of swans en masse. The female ensemble of 48 swans is exquisite, with lashings of the requisite restrain and unison required of the lakeside acts. The undulating arms lines, the geometric formations and the sense of individuals creating a unified look of romantic beauty are all present.
Swan Lake is also a tale of good versus evil and light versus dark, personified in the dual role of Odette/Odile (here played by guest artist from The Australian Ballet, Ako Kondo) and the evil half-man, half-bird Von Rothbart (Zhou Haibo). This side of the ballet is less present. The overall production is a display of proficient, at moments inspired, dancing, but the dramatic narrative doesn't feel fully realised.
The famous Black Swan pas de deux of Act III in which Odile tricks Prince Siegfried (Wu Husheng) into thinking she is his love, Odette, misses the multi-dimensional tension. But it does highlight the famous displays and turns (such as Odile’s impressive 32 fouette turns) characteristic of the duet.
Hasheng started quietly but built in power throughout the evening, proving to be a clean and very proficient turner and tight jumper. Kondo is equally impressive with near faultless lines and precise technique. The chemistry doesn’t always fire between the leads, although both are individually wonderful dancers.
Rather than finish with death, Deane opts for the happier ending – the couple riding off together on a raft-like structure into the heavens and beyond. This choice takes the edge off the tragedy and keeps the production emotionally lighter.
Peter Farmer’s set opts for opulent and heavy velvets in reds and greens for the ball scene.The icy look of the swan lake and forest are well-created with back drops and smoke machines and have just enough space to breathe on the Regent stage.
Without a live orchestra (often the case with touring ballets) some immediacy is gone and makes for a slightly stilted performance.
Luckily, the calling card of the extra-fortified swans makes this Swan Lake worth seeing and gives a technically proficient production a much needed dazzle factor.
Andrew Guild and Simon Bryce – Theatre Tours International presents
Choreographer Derek Deane
Venue: Regent Theatre | 191 Collins St, Melbourne VIC
Dates: 20 – 24 April, 2017
Tickets: $59 – $179 (+ transaction fees)
Bookings: 1300 111 011 | ticketmaster.com.au