Seeing Swan Lake for the first time is like seeing a famous monument for the first time. It looks familiar. You recognise it. Your heart swells the first time you see the swans. You kind of know what to expect, but not really.
The Russian National Ballet Theatre is currently touring New Zealand and Australia with a full-length performance of Swan Lake, presented in the classic four act structure – The Garden of Prince Siegfried’s Castle, A Lakeside, The Great Hall of Siegfried’s Castle and The Lakeside.
Guided by Artistic Director, Elena Radchenko, the company presents the 1895 version of the classic Russian folktale of the star-crossed lovers, Prince Siegfried and the Swan Queen Odette, and the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart, with its just as famous Tchaikovsky score.
As the lights dimmed, I was surprised to hear pre-recorded music commence. There is no live orchestra touring with this production and I must admit, not only was this a disappointment, it detracted from the emotional connection to the production.
The stage at the Concourse Theatre at Chatswood was small, as was the theatre itself, so without a live orchestra, or enough speakers to carry the pre-recorded soundtrack effectively, you heard everything. Every swipe of a ballet slipper, every thunk of a pointe shoe and I swear I even heard off stage chorography counts and instructions at times. This also detracted from becoming swept away by the performance.
The staging itself was also very simple, with drapery forming the basis to transition between the four acts.
Thankfully, the skills, beauty, power and classic technique of all of the dancers was stunningly beautiful enough to mostly overcome all of these detractions.
I’m continually in awe of ballet performers, especially when you can see them live and up close. The women are so compactly strong and the men so muscular, you can’t help but awe at how physically fit they are. Men’s ballet costumes never leave much to the imagination, and you get a masterclass in the physicality of leg muscles by watching world class male ballet dancers.
The story line is famous enough that it was basically easy enough to understand the structure of the performance, but there were times I was wondering what was taking place. A wiki read on the way home certainly helped make sense of the proceedings.
The program was very light on company details, with little information on the company past the principal performers. This was also strangely reflected in the curtain call, with only the principal dancers standing out for applause.
Playing the central and dual role of Odette / Odile must be one of the most challenging roles for any principal ballerina. Not only must she be innocent and vulnerable as the white swan Odette, she must be powerful and duplicitous as Odile, the black swan.
I found Lutcko Marta’s Odette more believe than her Odile, although she gave a precise and stunning performance as both, especially as she nailed Odile’s 32 Fouette turn. I would have liked to have seen her Odile costume more elaborate and seductive, it was a little plain.
Moskalets Mykyta in the role of Prince Siegfried was strong, capable, athletic, but lacked spark and personality. The dancer playing Rothbart was more charismatic during his brief appearances on stage. I don’t care much for the role of the Jester, a little too hammy for me, but Bogutskyi Oleksii was dynamic and full of verve.
The highlight for me, and the rest of the audience judging by the applause, was certainly the danse des petits cygnes, the famous Dance of the Little Swans. What a joy it was to see an iconic piece of ballet theatre performed by very capable ballerinas.
Overall, it was a very pleasing and highly enjoyable performance that was just slightly let down by staging limitations.