The Australian Ballet’s Swan Lake, envisaged by Artistic Director David Hallberg, brings glorious Rococo brightness and colours to Anne Woolliams’ original production.
In celebration of The Australian Ballet Company’s 60th anniversary it is fitting that this production be revived. As a signature work in their repertoire, it recalls Anne Woolliams’ passion for excellence and authenticity of storytelling championed through this iconic work.
By comparison to productions such as those of Graeme Murphy or Stephen Baynes this version remains narratively driven as opposed to character driven. A nod to the past styles perhaps, but a lack in this age where a taste for more evident emotional narratives has enriched choreographic motivations and added opportunity for both audiences and dancers alike. As such, opportunities for Prince Siegfried’s character development seem limited, reducing the authenticity of his agency upon which hinge the logical plot lines at the heart of this ballet.
However, the true anchors of this production remain clear, the three pas de deux and the “white acts” for the corps de ballet. These features are enduring, mesmerising and danced with full conviction from all involved. Bravo to the Principals and the Corps de Ballet and to all who guided them.
Naturally we turn to Odette/Odile, who wields the power and progresses the emotional logic of this production. Benedicte Bemet’s performance was fearless and authentic. Lighting-quick bourées, yearning extensions, fluent arms and genuine vulnerability seamlessly served her as Odette/Odile.
The fiendish challenges of this role did not appear to bother her one bit, making even the fouettés in Act III appear a logical extension of her character, rather than a series of dazzling turns separate to the story.
Joseph Caley was an admirable Siegfried, his clean lines and elegant carriage serving him well in the challenging solos of Act I and Act III. He comes into his own however in the glorious partnering with Bemet in which he was both expertly supportive and emotionally invested. His gracious support allowed spontaneity and expression to culminate in the sublime musicality and execution of their partnership and the story.
The sheer beauty of the costumes by Mara Blumenfeld and set designs by David Ostling, nestled us seamlessly in a country chateau of Rococo royalty. The fresh light colours of the court were uplifting, flattering and beautiful, cleverly allowing for movement and elements of historical authenticity at the same time.
Elegantly realistic and beautifully lit, the sets and scenery of the Court contrasted with the increasingly abstract and unnerving settings of the lake. Dark semicircles and stark spires loomed in the final act, portending the sacrifices Odette and Siegfried make and the menacing control Von Rothbart wields over the swans and all who desire them.
A number of soloists and supporting cast were also outstanding. Opportunities are provided in the introduced Waltz in Act 1, the Pas de Six, the visiting princesses and of course the cygnets and lead swans.
Jill Ogai brought joyful charisma to all her appearances, dancing with fleet-footed security and daring, matched by Jade Wood, whose charm, crisp footwork and control were also evident throughout.
Nathan Brook danced with generous power and calm presence in the Pas de Six, alongside Mason Lovegrove, who presented with great facility but showed some uncertainty in this performance.
Marcus Morelli was a perfect upstaging Jester, bringing presence and ease to his scenes. His technical control, vigour and humour were a delight, and his turns and elevation invigorating.
The lead swans, Valerie Tereschchenko and Rina Nemato, were superbly matched, menacing and proud, giving truth to the protective nature of these birds, and imbued with control and elegant command. The four cygnets were a miracle of unison, not a jeté or a head out of place, daring us to watch their timing and accuracy with a sense of cool presence and precision.
Orchestra Victoria played beautifully under new Music Director and Chief Conductor Jonathan Lo. A sense of adept delicacy and confidence emanated from the ensemble, fully focused it seemed on embracing us in the full colours of Tchaikovsky’s score. Although the Overture and Prologue seemed too speedy at times, it was only the closing peasant dance in Act 1 where the tempo obviously unsettled the dancers’ execution.
The orchestral highlights were the Grand Pas de Deux in Acts II and IV. Rarely do we see the elements of each dancer’s gestures so perfectly match the aspects of phrasing and tone in the music. Sulki Yu (violin), Tijana Kozarcic (harp) and Melissa Chominsky (cello) drew rapt attention with their expertise as their interpretations and feeling for the score seemed to flow directly into the emotion and phrasing of the dancers.
The popularity of this season validates the incredible support a company of this standing deserves while at the same time developing the artistry of our Australian talent.
Photo credit Kate Longley
Steven McTaggart reviewed The Australian Ballet’s production of “Swan Lake”, performed at the State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, on September 19, 2023. Performances run until September 30.