The United Ukraine Ballet: Swan Lake review [Melbourne]

Buoyed by pristine classical technique, The United Ukraine Ballet presents a charmingly traditional staging of perennial ballet favourite Swan Lake.

Formed a mere six months ago, the organisational standard of The United Ukraine Ballet is impressive indeed. Inspired and moved to serve the displaced dancers of Ukraine, the vision and drive of artistic leader Igone Jongh is already reaping ample rewards. The young company is characterised by a well-matched team of dancers who clearly take great joy and pride in their craft.

Although their work is listed in the program as “Swan Lake Reimagined by” the staging and choreography of Elena Glurjidze assisted by Sara Knight is thoroughly and pleasingly traditional. With a clear focus on dance, the number of divertissements seems a little higher. Storytelling elements are crystal clear, supported by the shared elegance of the performance of moments of mime. 

Glurjidze and Knight have the character of Benno as a merry court jester. Given the difficult state of world affairs, none more so than for the people of Ukraine, the choice to use the happy ending of the story is a very well-judged choice. 

Attracting a hefty crowd to the vastly capacious Plenary, the ever-popular Swan Lake is seen in its pure, time-honoured form. While modern scenic design has moved on from the painted backdrops seen here, the gold and midnight blue arches of the Royal Palace Ballroom are suitably grand, the opening of act two drawing applause from the opening night audience. Frosty overhead branches set the atmosphere for the iconic scenes by the lake. 

Set design may be somewhat dated but the costumes are utterly lovely. Even better, the dancers really know how to move in them to make the best of the designs. The combined result is suitably otherworldly, conjuring a distant magical kingdom to delightful effect.

Spoilt by the quality of Orchestra Victoria, local audiences may find the recorded music underwhelming; ultimately, however, it is all about the dance, and the innate technical prowess of the company is a pleasure to behold. 

To watch Kateryna Chebykina as Odette and Odile is to see a true prima ballerina at work. Chebykina completely inhabits the dual roles, projecting the compelling characters with every atom of her body. Chebykina draws the audience close with her heart rending work as Odette and then projects frosty vanity as Odile. In a striking highlight, as Odette is drawn offstage at the end of act one, Chebykina creates swan-like ripples in her arms as though they were made of jelly.

Charismatic principal Oleksii Kniazkov deftly judges his stage presence as Prince Siegfried, commanding attention and yet capturing the gentle loneliness of the young prince. As with a great many of his colleagues, Kniazkov executes the pillowiest of leaps, and proves the master of the rapid circular jetés. 

A elegantly matched pair, Chebykina and Kniazkov generate strong chemistry, and engagingly drive the romantic heart of the story. 

Pavlo Zurnadzhi is a clear crowd favourite as the cheeky Jester. Zurnadzhi’s comic work is perfectly supported by stellar dance ability. 

Oleksiy Grishun makes for a devilish Rothbart, working his back feathered wings in fiendishly charismatic style. 

Ganna Surmina conveys a serenely regal presence as The Queen. Viktor Lytvynenko is a good sport as the helplessly harried Tutor. 

While each of the featured divertissements are beautifully performed, mention must be made of the Pas de Trois in act one. In a wonderful sequence, Daria Manoilo, Nikita Potapchuk and Vasylysa Nykyforova each dance with the flair and grace usually only seen in principal artists. (Click through the gallery below to see each of these dancers in action)

Following an enthusiastic reception at the curtain call, the dancers returned to the stage holding Ukraine flags as the State Anthem of Ukraine was played. This deeply moving sight was greeted by a full standing ovation from the highly supportive audience. 

Ideal family entertainment, Swan Lake will surely delight lovers of dance as well as inspiring younger dancers. 

Swan Lake plays at Plenary, Melbourne Conference and Exhibition Centre until 23 October 2022. For tickets, click here.

Swan Lake plays at Darling Harbour Theatre, ICC Sydney, 28 October – 5 November 2022. For tickets, click here.

Swan Lake plays at Adelaide Festival Theatre, 9 – 13 November 2022. For tickets, click here.

Photos: Ben Vella

Footnote: as a word of guidance to the good folk at MCEC, for the enjoyment and sanity of all, and for the respect of the artists, the presentation of classical works requires strict lock-out periods. 

Categories: Dance, Reviews

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