Capitol Theatre, February 20
Graeme Murphy’s delectable Swan Lake was first staged in 2002. It is now one of the Australian Ballet’s most loved and frequently performed works – and it’s not hard to see why.
Inspired by the love triangle between Princess Diana, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, it is cleverly conceived (concept by Murphy, the late Kristian Fredrikson and Janet Vernon), ravishingly beautiful, choreographically inventive and deeply moving.
If the AB is going to present a commercial season at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre, then this Swan Lake – now one of their signature works internationally – is the perfect choice.
More than a decade on, the production still feels fresh, particularly when performed as sublimely as it was on opening night by Madeleine Eastoe as the fragile Odette and Kevin Jackson as the conflicted Prince Siegfried.
What’s more, it’s great to see the ballet on the large Capitol Theatre stage, where there is more room to move than at the Sydney Opera House.
For those who haven’t seen the ballet, the re-imagined story line works beautifully, dramatically and emotionally, lending itself to some of Murphy’s most stunning choreography. On the eve of her wedding to Prince Siegfried, Odette has unsettling doubts about his love for her – with good reason, for he is having an affair with a Baroness. Odette realises as much at their wedding and her mind begins to shatter. She is committed to a sanatorium, where she finds emotional escape in hallucinations of herself as a swan with the Prince still her beau.
Some months later, the Baroness – who has the Prince very much in her thrall – hosts a ball. Odette appears, now radiantly serene. The Prince falls deeply in love with her. The Baroness attempts to have her returned the sanatorium. Odette flees into the night with the Prince in hot pursuit. They fall into each other’s arms but Odette knows there will never be a happy ending. With the Baroness there, she will never know any peace of mind and so she throws herself into the lake, leaving the Prince to mourn her forever.
The Baroness replaces the sorcerer Rothbart of the original and also takes the place of Odile at the ball where all the guests are in dark, glittering outfits except Odette whose white dress reflects her spiritual purity.
Choosing an Edwardian setting, Fredrikson’s costumes are just gorgeous – the most famous being Odette’s ballgown with a long train, which Murphy weaves into choreography. There are all kinds of resonant touches in the costuming, including the swans appearing in black for the tragic denouement. Suffice to say the production, with sets also designed by Fredrikson, is a constant visual delight.
Murphy tells the story through emotionally imbued choreography that takes the breath away at times. It is wonderfully inventive while making references to the original, particularly with the swans. A pas de trois between Odette, the Prince and the Baroness says everything you need to know about the threesome and Odette’s bewildered anguish. The way Odette hurls herself into the arms of all the men at her wedding speaks of her broken heart, spirit and mind. There are signature Murphy flourishes, like Odette walking along the raised hands of the men, but they always feel as if they belong to the world of this ballet. And how the crowd loved the iconic cygnets, danced with admirable precision by Brooke Lockett, Benedicte Bemet, Karen Nanasca and Heidi Martin on opening night.
Eastoe is meltingly lovely as Odette. Always a superb interpreter of emotion, she is gossamer light, every moment perfectly performed yet intensely eloquent, her acting as convincing as her dancing. Jackson is her match as the Prince, portraying a conflicted man who is thoughtless rather than calculating, allowing himself to be swayed by the Baroness but finally realising what he has lost. I have rarely seen him convey such emotion.
Dancing the role of the Baroness on opening night, Ako Kondo brings plenty of hard-edged flash to the role. With the entire company in fine form, this is just the show to seduce newcomers to ballet – and hopefully there will be many in the audiences at the Capitol, a venue closely associated with musicals.
The Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra is currently playing for Opera Australia so Orchestra Victoria played Tchaikovsky’s glorious score under the baton of the AB’s Chief Conductor Nicolette Fraillon.
All in all, a beautiful night.
Swan Lake is at the Capitol Theatre until February 28