David Dawson, the creator of this new rendition of Tchaikovsky’s classic Swan Lake, cites Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert’s ‘Study of the Object’ as an inspiration for his creation. The text is an abstract poem in praise of an object ‘which does not exist’. To me, Sophie Martin’s Odette, so ethereal she barely seems human at all during her first appearance, seems the perfect embodiment of this ideal object – there one moment, gone the next. Her presence enchants the stage, while her escort of swans look like so many ghostly reflections on the surface of an abstract lake. Her first appearance, at the end of Benno’s (Andrew Peasgood) party rather felt like an apparition, after an introduction which, if I’m honest, had left me hoping for more. Her duet with Siegfried (Christopher Harrison) is beautiful and tense, tender and deftly executed. Dawson’s choice of a minimalistic scenography truly comes to its own in this moment. Odette and her swans, whose unadorned white bodies accentuate their fragile, almost unearthly presence, seem to float under a steel coloured structure, more mineral than vegetal, which eventually separates them from the world. The lake is suggested by a mere white crescent at the back of the stage, its reflections rendered by a skilful play of lights and shadows, adding to the sobriety of the scenery.
The rule, in this new Swan Lake, is indeed one of extreme economy: no gilded costumes, no trinkets, the dancers wear plain jackets and dresses, giving the whole performance an air of everydayness where Odette and, later, Odile’s apparition feel all the more preternatural. When Odette’s dark alter ego comes on stage to ensnare naïve Siegfried in the nets of her dancing, her arrival, carried in the arms of four masked men clad in black, is a disruption, a shock leaving us all stunned and helplessly bewitched. Siegfried’s unsuccessful seducers – three young women, brightly dressed in pink, orange and yellow, sent by his friend Benno to cheer him up – cannot but pale in comparison. However, their performance also calls for praise. Their alternation of flamboyance, sensuality and cajoling seduction, all foiled by Siegfried’s indifference, was a nice counterpart to Odile’s poisonous presence.
Dawson’s interpretation of Swan is a modern retaking of the masterpiece. It is alternately so simple as to be austere, but moving, down-to-earth and spectral, and an impressive performance.