Friday, 14 December 2012

The Australian Ballet's 'Swan Lake'

In an era of hyper-stimulation, short attention spans and fast-forward entertainment, it can seem that the ballet has no place in the commercial arts scene. However, a sold-out season of Swan Lake at the Sydney Opera House as put on by the Australian Ballet indicates a public craving quality performance and remarkably only small changes were made to the classic ballet which resonates despite a shift in audience tastes.

In some ways, it was more of a minimalist production with the dancers occupying the entire stage - free of heavy props or set. Stephen Baynes, choreographer, allowed the artists to showcase their skill while leaving space to tell the story. No words were spoken, but the expression shone through the emotionally complex characters and their choices.

For a classical ballet, Swan Lake relies heavily on the company to support the principal duo. At times there were a few slip-ups among the group but overall the cast executed the choreography in time, sensitively and honestly. Tchaikovsky's monumental score is essential to the production and chief conducter Nicolette Fraillon lead a fine orchestra through the key moments, both dramatic and more lighthearted.

It is impossible to overlook the artistry of the principal dancers, with Adam Bull as Prince Seigfreid displaying a perceptive and expressive performance, navigating the dynamics of the Prince's journey and communicating the awe-inspiring love which marks the ballet. Amber Scott, as the main swan, appears so fragile and innocent, that her strength in lifts and leaps seems illusory. At first, in the establishing ballroom scenes, those unfamiliar with the story will feel lost and disconcerted, especially due to the little dancing but the following act blooms into a powerful piece.

When Amber Scott returns to the stage donned in all black, as Odile, she suddenly emulates the wicked yet seductive famed character of the ballet. The solos of the second act are astounding - the ballerinas, both male and female, let loose and dance with the utmost passion and technique. Stephen Baynes allows each dancer his or her space between the plot-driven moments and it seems neither over-the-top nor over-performed.

There are some modern tricks with lighting and background which create even more of a spooky atmosphere than established by the cast. The hand-painted moonlit sets are a complementary and romantic backdrop to the action. It really is a case of all elements of the performance coming together in a meaningful way.

The final scene of the ballet reaches the height of haunting with the company flooding the stage around the two estranged lovers. Unlike most interpretations, there is no visual death or suicide, yet it is still such a moving scene without any words. The orchestra draws on the high tension and the effect visually, of all the swan dancers fluttering about in an organised chaos, is something special.

The Australian Ballet 2012 summer Swan Lake performances certainly serve justice to the original and interpret it in a fresh yet romantic manner. A must-see for ballet fans and new audiences alike.

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