Sunday, 24 April 2016

Swan Lake, Scottish Ballet. Glasgow. April 2016.

Review - Scottish Ballet. Swan Lake.

Theatre Royal, Glasgow. April 2016

Scottish Ballet have not performed Swan Lake for over 20 years now, and this new production, choreographed by David Dawson, is not like any Swan Lake they have done before. Tchaikovsky's soaring music is as grand and lush as ever, played magnificently by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra, but everything else is stripped back: characters, set, costumes.

Swan Lake, since it was written 140 years ago has been interpreted in many different ways, with the swan scenes as drug induced dream sequences to versions emphasising the suppressed homosexuality of Seigfried. However the classical idea most people have of ballet is the tutu clad ballerinas dancing arm in arm across the stage in the dance of the four swans from Swan Lake. White, feathery, delicate and frequently parodied, never better than by Morecambe and Wise below.


The traditional story of Swan Lake was concocted by Tchaikovsky with elements of various folk tales referenced. Young Prince Seigfried is a dreamer and is not interested in his mother the Queen's matchmaking. When his friend Benno spots a flock of swans flying overhead they head off to hunt them, Seigfried finds himself alone and spying the swans in the moonlight by a lake he sees them as beautiful young women, and he falls in love with the swan princess, Odette. The are held under an enchantment by powerful sorcerer Von Rothbart, sometimes portrayed as an owl, only turning back to feminine form by the light of the moon. The spell can only be broken by true love, and seigfried promises his heart to Odette. Later as his mother presents potential partners to Seigfried, Von Rothbart presents Odile, his daughter, who seduces Seigfried and he betrays Odette. Once he has fallen for Odile (danced by the same performer as Odette) she vanishes, and full of remorse Seigfried rushes to Odette at the lake, who departs with her swans, trapped in their animal form by his betrayal.

By stripping away the rich costumes, the tutus, "the velvets and swags that dictate so much about how we see Swan Lake" David Dawson focuses on the dancing and the love story at the centre of the ballet. Empty grey sets designed by John Otto, simple t-shirts and wrap-around skirts in muted colours for the dancers in the opening scene take us away from the world of a royal court. Seigfried is a contemporary everyman, who doesn't join in the backslapping bonhomie of his friends. More surprises are in store in the second scene, where the lake is barely present, a luminous arc in the background and the "swans" are dressed by Yumiko Takeshima in grey and flesh-toned costumes with the mere shadow of wings on their back. The swans are no longer delicate cygnets bowing their heads in deference, but a strong, physical, animal presence. Their outstretched arms and cocked wrists creating the silhouette of the type of swan that you are warned can break your arm with their powerful wings. None is more forceful than the small muscular frame of Sophie Martin as Odette. There is no fire in the coming together of Odette and Seigfried in the second scene. Theirs is a romantic ideal, sealed with a love token given by Odette to Seigfried.

The whole ballet really comes to life in the second half. As the suitors vainly dance to attract Seigfried's attention the black clad Odile arrives and steals the show. Sophie Martin's dancing here makes it entirely clear why this real live person steals his heart from the ideal of Odette. With her four henchmen reminding me of the masked sidekicks of Burgess Meredith's Penguin from the old Batman TV series, Benno tries to warn his friend not to fall for her charms. She is obviously not their type of woman, but Benno's warnings are to no avail. When he gives his love to Odile, she vanishes and full of remorse he rushes back to Odette. Their pas de deux at the end is beautiful, physical and almost sculptural. this Odette is no swan trapped under a spell, but an independent soul he leaves him, never to return because of his betrayal.

Initially I was pining for the frills and velvet that the music evokes, but the simpler story of love and betrayal that they tell had caught me by the end. At times the costumes are a bit too minimalist for the story, making it look like a Muji fashion shoot. The swans can appear more like a team of synchronised swimmers than ballerinas in their flesh toned leotards at times.

Years ago when I visited St Petersburg we went to the park which gave Tchaikovsky the inspiration for Swan Lake. The non-descript pond he sat beside, that became the setting for the story he created, makes Bingham's Pond in Glasgow look like an exotic lagoon. From such a simple reality he created a soaring score. Here they have taken a soaring story and boiled it down to a simple story of love and betrayal. The music was glorious and the dancing was fantastic, but I am not sure that it really portrays "Swan Lake" as Morecambe and Wise (and me) would recognise it. 

No comments:

Post a Comment