Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake first premiered in London back in 2005, now this production that is much loved back home in Australia returns, alongside Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella.
Murphy’s production takes it’s inspiration from a number or pre-existing concepts and is scattered throughout with contemporary choreography that attempts to bring Tchaikovsky’s classic to the 21st century. The concept is firstly very loosely based on the long triangle between Prince Charles, Princess Diana and Camilla Parker-Bowles as Act I takes place at Odette (Amber Scott) and Seigfried’s (Adam Bull) wedding where his eye is caught by the statuesque Baroness von Rothbart. Indeed, Murphy does away with the Black Swan, Odile altogether and the Baroness simply parades and swaggers about the stage anytime the score denotes her evil presence.
Not only is a new story crowbarred into the mix but the score is mercilessly adapted to accommodate this new narrative. Tchiakovsky’s earth-shattering work is bent, pushed and pulled to breaking point. Most notably and inexplicably, the famous ”Black Swan” variation is moved from Act III to Act I and used to indicate Odette’s descent into madness with a series of jetes and pirouettes. There are certainly none of the show-stopping 32 fouettes, disappointingly. However, for what the choreography lacks in tradition, this likeable company makes up for in personality. Principal Amber Scott is a fragile and neurotic Odette who falters and flaps convincingly throughout, although together with Adam Bull’s Seigfried the two lacked an authentic chemistry in what seemed a purely functional partnership. Dimity Azoury is a commanding Baroness who exudes the appropriate grandeur.
Kristian Fredrikson’s set design is alluring and opulent in the scenes at court, however the scenes of the most beauty are saved, quite rightly, for the lakeside with shimmering water and elegant swans whose understated costumes are still effective and tasteful.
Before we are taken to the lakeside, Act II begins at a sanatorium where Odette is losing her mind over Siegfried’s betrayal. There’s plenty of sitting and wallowing, by the window, in the bath, however during these moments we hear the most emotive moments of Tchaikovksy’s score the seem simply wasted in this new adaption. There is more than a shade of Matthew Bourne’s much-loved, all-male production where Act III is set in an asylum where Siegfried has lost his mind.
Australian Ballet are a highly capable and undoubtedly a talented company and this is a brave interpretation of ballet’s most classic tale however not quite everything adds up in Graeme Murphy’s updated production. One hopes their upcoming performances of Ratmansky’s Cinderella can showcase their full potential.