Audiences can never get enough of Swan Lake. No matter the version, the venue or the company performing, people continue to flock to the famous ballet with its classical themes and visions of ethereal swan ballerinas.
This current production, the biggest drawcard of The Australian Ballet’s 60th anniversary year, completely sold out prior to opening. And despite being slightly reworked – design-wise and with some choreographic tweaks – it still presents a very traditional and clean offering.
It’s the popular 1977 version by previous Australian Ballet artistic director Anne Woolliams (who herself was recreating Marius Petipa and Ray Powell) that has been restaged many times and never loses appeal.
For this production, current Australian Ballet Artistic Director David Hallberg is attached as director, with additional choreography by Lucas Jervies. Hallberg commissioned new costumes (by Mara Blumenfled) that really freshen it up, especially the rich purples, burgundies and autumnal tones of the ballroom scene. Original sets (by Daniel Ostling) bring the foreboding lake scenes to life with simple large, bare tree trunks rising into the stage’s upper reaches and poised against dark backgrounds.
It’s the two main pas de deux and the geometric and exacting swan formations that are the most memorable parts of Swan Lake. The swan choreography here doesn’t disappoint with its tight geometric patterns of bodies showcasing rippling, undulating arms and dramatic bent waist folds to the floor. Within the unison movements of the many swans sits a mix of vulnerability and attack that is sustained throughout all the sections.
And most famous of all, the cygnets (Laura Griffiths, Karina Arimura, Evie Ferris, Hannah Sergi) with their precise line of quick footwork, make their mark in an all too brief and snappy quartet.
These are the money shots that we all come to see – and the company doesn’t disappoint, with a clean technique that feels a step above their already excellent standard fare.
Ako Kondo (Odette/Odile) and Chengwu Guo (Prince Siegfried) are a couple in real life and this familiarity makes for a great and comfortable lead pairing. Alongside an exquisite physicality, Kondo really brings out the emotion of Odette – the initial hesitation and shyness that builds to a passionate love and the more confident, almost haughty physicality of Odile. She is the whole package. Guo is all precise turns and power jumps – hitting his big solo displays with tight panache. Across both their big pas de deux they sustained technical endurance and a sustained, believable partnership.
Jarryd Madden as von Rothbart has fun with the evil character role, with his menacing posturing and exaggerated arm reaches filling the space with all the foreboding presence of a villian.
The ensemble/corps de ballet in the Palace Gardens and Palace Ballroom interspersed the lake scenes with buoyant and plentiful dancing. Tchaikovsky’s music by Orchestra Victoria (under music director Jonathan Lo) brought the whole production together for a very memorable and enjoyable Swan Lake.
The Australian Ballet presents
Originally produced by Anne Woolliams after Petipa, additional choreography Ray Powell
Director David Hallberg
Venue: State Theatre | Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 19 – 30 September 2023
With Orchestra Victoria