The Australian Ballet: Swan Lake review

Artistic Director David McAllister’s vision to mount a new-yet-traditional staging of perennial favourite Swan Lake has been lovingly and expertly realised in this wondrous production that puts the focus squarely on the superb dancers of The Australian Ballet.

* For the review of Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake 2013 CLICK HERE *

Fundamental to the success of this performance, a centerpiece in this 50th anniversary year, is the extraordinary work of choreographer Stephen Baynes. An expert storyteller, Baynes gives the narrative a drive and purpose that avoids the trap of having dance after dance for their own sake. Solos and pas de deux are exquisite, but the stage really comes alive with full corps de ballet sequences, such as the grand balls of acts I and III and the massed white swans of the iconic act II. Baynes paints picture after beautiful picture with his dancers, creating work that appears to be as much pleasure for the dancers to perform as it is for the audience to watch.

The artistry of the dancers is complemented superbly by the costume and set designs of Hugh Colman. The collaboration of Baynes and Colman, referenced in the program notes, is clearly evident throughout the ballet, with many of Baynes’ physical compositions set off perfectly by the colour, texture and form of the costumes and the grandeur of the backdrops.

The work is further enhanced by the excellent lighting design of Rachel Burke, one of the many highlights being the cinematic fade in and fade out of Prince Siegfried’s childhood memories in the prologue. Further magic comes from the judicious use of projections, designed by Domenico Bartolo.

Music Director Nicolette Fraillon inspires Orchestra Victoria to a rich, beautiful performance of the all-time classic score. Fraillon’s world-class knowledge of classical repertoire and her sheer love of music can practically be heard in every note.

Dancing in the world premiere of this new production were Amber Scott and Adam Bull, who had the audience in raptures of appreciation. Tall and nobly handsome, Bull is the ideal leading man. With his acting talent on par with his dance ability, Bull commands attention as the tormented, brooding Prince, pervading a languid, melancholy air which is cast off during the thrilling solos and pas de deux of act III.

Scott’s delicate appearance belies a subtle inner strength that radiates throughout her performance. Her presence is such that she is clearly seen at all times even when on stage with 24 other ballerinas with the same costume and hair. Scott’s swan-like undulating arms as Odette floats offstage at the end of act II creates a heartbreaking image as Siegfried is left alone to wonder if he will ever see his love again.

Reiko Hombo, Jessica Fyfe, Eloise Fryer and Jade Wood proved to be athletically nimble and gracefully precise in the beloved dance of the four Cygnets.

As much a star as any of the soloists are, the corps de ballet, with their focus, strength, grace and beauty shining through in all their meticulous, expressive and just simply gorgeous work.

A range of guest artists provide quality support, with highlights including Lisa Bolte as the Queen, who practically died of humiliation at the end of act III, and the ever-expressive Colin Peasley.

The story of the ballet will, of course, be familiar to a great many audience members, with the piece further brought to public attention through the hit movie Black Swan. While this familiarity takes away some of the thrill, the evening is nonetheless an entirely satisfactory and enjoyable one. A freshness and passion are brought to the work by the obvious dedication and focus of the entire company. The craftsmanship and expertise of so many artists of the theatre combine to create a whole that is even greater than the sum of its not inconsiderable parts.

Special mention must be made of the high quality souvenir program for Swan Lake, which is absolutely packed with fascinating feature articles and gorgeous photos. Having seen ballets this year in London, Paris, Munich, Milan and New York, this reviewer claims that the program must be the best of its kind in the world.

You may also enjoy Man in Chair’s reviews and photos of:

The Australian Ballet’s Icons

Eifman’s Ballet’s Anna Karenina

Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker and Romeo and Juliet

Bavarian State Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty

La Scala’s Giselle

Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! and Ivan Putrov’s Men in Motion

Photos: Jeff Busby

This review published on Theatre People 19 September 2012

6 replies »

  1. Not sure if this is the same production they did at Lincoln Center a few months ago but I did not care for that production. I like something more traditional like the ABT version.

    On the Opera front, The Met was kind enough tonight to project the opening night gala of L’Elisir d’Amore starring Netrebko to the outside plaza and provide seating but, alas, I only made it 3/4 of the way through because it was too darn cold. Down to about 60F. It was interesting though because unlike being in the theater during the intermission they take the camera to show behind the scenes as well as interview the stars.

    • Hi Siggy,

      The version of Swan Lake that travelled to NY this year is extremely popular in Australia, although I had heard that it was not as well received in NY. This new production is a traditional version to balance the Graeme Murphy one (which is going to play in Australia again next year).

      Lucky that you can just turn up and see Met productions live outside the theatre. I frequently watch these screenings in cinemas (when I can’t be in NY for the real thing), although we always get them about 3 weeks after they have screened live in the US. Looking forward to L’Elisir d’Amore in cinemas in November here.

      Happy new Met season! Hope you get to see plenty of productions and big stars this time around.

  2. I see. Yes, after you write it I remember it was called “Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake.”

    “Lucky that you can just turn up and see Met productions live outside the theatre. I”

    As far as transmitting to theaters, I’ve not seen that.

    I was referring to when The Met sets up a big screen that they hang from in front of The Met theater and they project to an audience that sits on the plaza facing The Met. They don’t charge for it.

    They only do this in late August when they do it a bunch of nights (not live shows, but previously recorded from the year before I think) and then on opening night when they do project live the opening night performance occurring inside the theater.

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