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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Swan Lake (The Australian Ballet), at Arts Centre Melbourne and touring

Stunning. That word best sums up The Australian Ballet’s reinvention of Anne Woolliams’ acclaimed 1977 production of the world’s most famous ballet, Swan Lake.

The tragically beautiful story with instantly recognisable score remains an audience favourite and the centrepiece and shining light of many companies’ repertoire.

Swan Lake is magnificent, majestic and mesmerising.

Photos by Kate Longley

Dancer, ballet mistress, teacher, producer and choreographer Woolliams brought her vision of it to The Australian Ballet while the company’s Artistic Director.

Now, current Artistic Director David Hallberg has used Woolliams’ production as inspiration, stamping his own mark on it.

This is Hallberg’s first major commission for the company in its 60th anniversary year and he rises to the occasion.

Swan Lake features lavish new sets and costumes, as Hallberg explores the ballet’s themes of yearning, love and betrayal.

Deep in the forest lies a lake, where imprisoned maidens are cruelly transformed into swans by the malevolent von Rothbart.

Only a proclamation of true love holds the power to undo the shattering curse.

All gather on Prince Siegfried’s name day. The Queen Mother extends invitations to ambassadors from three neighbouring realms, intending to orchestrate marriage to her son.

But he yearns for life beyond his birthright and slips away.

He finds himself drawn to a lake he has never before encountered, where he sees Odette, the ethereal Queen of the Swans.

She undergoes a wonderous transformation, leaving Siegfried spellbound.

He is convinced that she embodies the ideal he has long sought, but his connection to her is marred by a sinister warning from von Rothbart.

He cautions Siegfried that his love is forbidden.

Later, as an opulent ball is in progress with princesses from Hungary, Spain and Italy out to capture Siegfried’s eye, his only thought is for Odette.

Suddenly, von Rothbart arrives, accompanied by his beguiling daughter Odile, whom he has cunningly transformed into Odette’s mirror image.

Siegfried publicly declares his love for Odile and all is lost.

On opening night, it was Principal Artists Benedicte Bemet and Joseph Caley who assumed the key roles of Odette/Odile and the Prince.

Theirs was a captivating display of artistic perfection.

Their solos and duets were justifiably met with rapturous applause.

I was also particularly taken by the performance of Jarryd Madden as von Rothbart.

His very presence brings an air of foreboding, channeling evil personified as a puppet master extraordinaire.

Every time I hear and see it, I am deeply moved by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Little Swans and so it is here. The leg work of the quartet is superb.

The ensemble numbers of pristine white swans – so enchanting – that punctuate the piece also continue to resonate with me. Choreographer Marius Petipa has excelled.

Conductor Jonathan Lo, concertmaster Sulki Yu and Orchestra Victoria, along with the artists of The Australian Ballet have turned out a world class production.

Running for 2 hours 45 minutes, including two 20-minute intervals, Swan Lake is playing at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until 30th September, 2023.

It then moves to Adelaide’s Festival Theatre from October 7th to 14th and Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre October 24th to 28th.

The season finishes at the Joan Sutherland Theatre at Sydney Opera House, from December 1st to 20th.


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