The Australian Ballet: Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake review

More than ten years old, and not showing the slightest signs of age, Graeme Murphy’s masterful production is as vivid and thrilling as ever.  Following last year’s traditional staging of perennial favourite Swan Lake, this avant-garde delight returns as a special treat for Melbourne audiences only. A gift that keeps on giving, the work of choreographer Graeme Murphy, along with creative associate Janet Vernon, continues to be enjoyed and adored by all who are lucky enough to see it.

Amber Scott, Adam Bull, Australian Ballet Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake

The dramatic impact and romantic splendour of this version remain supremely potent, with Kristian Fredikson’s sets and costumes as pristine and visually striking as they were at the production’s 2002 premiere. Audience members still gasp at the rise of the act three curtain, when a forebodingly dark, black, heavily textured palace scene replaces the gleaming white and silver world of the first two acts.

In addition to the pure, gorgeous dance involved, each of three principals, and, in fact, the entire company, are provided with considerable scope for acting throughout the piece. Storytelling is key and endless divertissements are nowhere to be seen. The chief achievement of the flawless combination of choreography and direction is that the beauty of the dance is immeasurably enhanced by the constant underlying tension between the characters. As well as being drilled to precision in dance, each performer clearly knows their character’s motivation, and this evident focus on dramaturgy pays off in an absorbing and moving night of theatre.

Tchaikovsky’s swirling, lyrical music is heard in a superb rendition of the timeless score by Orchestra Victoria. Powerhouse conductor Nicolette Fraillon’s brisk tempi keep the music at a thrilling pace. Impressively strong playing is heard from the brass, which contrasts with exquisite notes from the harp.

Amber Scott, Adam Bull, corps Australian Ballet Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake

Adam Bull again shows himself to be a star attraction, giving another finely calibrated performance coloured by delicate nuance and intriguing detail. Bull’s strength in the slow, highly controlled moves is rather incredible, and he benefits from the costume design, with his long limbs looking elegant and expressive as he dances in suits rather than the tights that would traditionally be seen.

Amber Scott is a sublime Odette, her luminous beauty allowing the young woman’s spiraling fear to radiate out with great power. Odette’s joy at her reunion with Prince Siegfried is shared by all, even though we know it will be short lived. Scott’s act two solo is a highlight, her affecting expression of Odette’s inward contemplation drawing the audience towards her performance.

Amber Scott, Australian Ballet Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake

Lana Jones’ petite build and fair colouring make the villainy of the adulterous Baroness implicit rather than stereotyped. Smug and secure as the husband-stealing Baroness may be in act one, her jealous madness in act three paves the way for a tour de force solo from Jones, after the Baroness sees her lover return to his wife. In this extraordinary sequence, Jones conveys palpable loss and longing with every fibre of her body, the Baroness’ movements building to a frenzied climax that Jones performs with spellbinding passion and absolute control.

Of the supporting dancers, magnetic soloist Brett Chynoweth catches the eye as the Earl’s Equerry, ably partnered in an amusing series of duets by the effortless dancing of senior artist Chengwu Guo. The work of the coryphées and corps de ballet as the swan and cygnets is immaculate, as Murphy has them glide from one gorgeous picture to the next.

If ever there was a show guaranteed to enthrall the newcomer and aficionado alike, this is surely the one. Provided you are quick enough to secure a ticket.

Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake continues at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until Monday 1 July 2013.

Australian Ballet Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake

Read reviews of other 2013 presentations by The Australian Ballet:

Adam Bull and an all star cast in Vanguard “An exploration of sensuality, the atmosphere is enhanced by the unflinching courage of the female dancers in appearing topless in a couple of tastefully lit and styled segments.”

Lana Jones and Daniel Gaudiello in Don Quixote “Strong individually, Jones and Gaudiello truly shine as a pair. Each final solo and pas de deux brought roars of approval from the enraptured crowd.”

Photos: Jeff Busby

This review published on Theatre People 22 June 2013.

5 replies »

  1. Wholeheartedly agree with this review. What a wonderful night. You captured its appeal.
    Cheers, Felicity Montgomery.

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