Artistic Director David Hallberg’s reimagining of Anne Woolliams’ 1977 production of Swan Lake is the centrepiece of The Australian Ballet’s 60th anniversary celebrations.
New sets, which lean into realism, and costumes were created for this production – by Daniel Ostling and Mara Blumenfeld respectively – but largely embrace the traditional.
While taking our seats we notice a divine single swan’s wing is projected on the scrim, which immediately sets the scene. Before the performance, Hallberg appears on stage to announce a couple of last-minute changes to the cast list (both lead roles): Odette/Odile will be danced by Robyn Hendricks – who has returned to the stage after having a baby – and Maxim Zenin, from the corps de ballet, will step into Prince Siegfried’s shoes.
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Drawing on Marius Petipa’s original choreography, this version of Swan Lake includes all the treasured, familiar steps balletomanes ache for throughout such as the crowd-favourite cygnets – performed with arms interlinked to best showcase the quartet’s fast, synchronised petit allegro – and Odile’s endless fouetté turns during her grand pas de deux with Prince Siegfried.
Swan Lake demands meticulous attention to detail during the rehearsal period and The Australian Ballet’s bevy of swans breathe as one, also demonstrating exceptional spatial awareness while dancing in formation.
As Odette, Queen of the Swans, Hendricks’ rippling port de bras – so exquisitely avian – make her arms appear boneless. During her Act II pas de deux with Siegfried, Hendricks brings a gentle resistance as if fighting her magnetic attraction towards the Prince. Hendricks’ portrayal of Odile (aka The Black Swan), the dangerous but seductive antiheroine, is equally compelling. Her flawless execution makes this difficult chore look easy: one particular unsupported balance in arabesque, en pointe, is so rock solid it seems like she could’ve held this position forever!
Zenin’s Prince Siegfried is a joy to watch and his careful partnering allows Hendricks to melt into his arms. He dances with such poise and composure that audience members feel relaxed, even during his exacting solos.
Brodie James, resplendent with sinister black eye makeup, is so convincing in his portrayal of the sorcerer Von Rothbart that the audience boos him during the curtain call.
Listening to Tchaikovsky’s iconic score alone, with its heart-wrenching quivering strings, is enough to open the floodgates and, under Martin Georgiev’s baton, Orchestra Victoria sounds sumptuous, sorrowful and sinister as required.
When the house curtain opens to reveal Act IV: The Lake, there are audible gasps from scattered audience members as we witness our bevy of swans in a perfectly spaced ‘V’ formation, frozen in position as though one dancer is replicated using mirror trickery. Later, as the lead swans grand jeté aggressively toward Siegfried while trying to protect their Queen, it’s moving beyond belief.
Since there are so many alternate endings to this ballet, we deliberately don’t read the synopsis so as not to ruin the surprise. But, sadly, this production’s conclusion feels rushed and we find ourselves not as emotionally invested as we could have been.
Post-performance, a young audience member who didn’t get the suspend-disbelief memo is overheard announcing to their companion that Swan Lake’s story is “a bit weird”.
Although Hallberg’s version of this beloved ballet doesn’t offer anything we haven’t already seen in previous productions, the spellbinding beauty of Swan Lake – a crowning jewel in any company’s classical repertoire – is undeniable. Consistency in technical virtuosity, musicality and stamina throughout their ranks further cements The Australian Ballet’s reputation as one of the world’s premier ballet companies. And Zenin clearly deserves a promotion post haste.
Swan Lake continues at Festival Theatre, Adelaide until 14 October, before heading to Lyric Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre 24 – 28 October and then Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House 1 – 20 December. For more information, head here.