Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake – The Australian Ballet: London Coliseum, 13 July 2016

Cygneture piece

Scott in Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake. Photo by Jeff Busby

Mad as a box of swans. Amber Scott in Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake. Photo by Jeff Busby

It’s just over 10 years since the The Australian Ballet last came to London’s Coliseum – in 2005 they brought with them Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake. Now, in 2016, they’ve returned and brought with them, er, Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake.

A radical retelling of the story is what’s promised and, to be fair, that’s what you get. Odette and Siegfried begin the night getting married only for things to go downhill when she spies her new husband getting cosy with a Baroness at the reception. Odette quickly goes mad and gets carted off to a sanatorium at the end of the first act.

I wasn’t loving it at this point but I was going with the flow and my interest was piqued by patches of Murphy’s athletic choreography. Act II arrives, however, and Odette suddenly thinks she’s a swan with loads of swanny friends. Why is that? Within the realist context of this new narrative there’s no dramatic justification as to why specifically swans should be haunting her mind so consequently there’s no reason to find her wafting around in a pale imitation of Lev Ivanov’s lakeside choreography.

Obviously it’s pretty clear it’s just a figment of the character’s imagination being crow-barred into the Swan Lake franchise. Only, hang on, in the final act it appears the swans are real – Siegfried’s interacting with them in what’s left of the real world. So that’s not confusing at all. Couple that with the notion of two women fighting tooth and nail over a man who’s blatantly proved himself faithless to both of them and it’s really difficult to care about anything that’s going on.

It’s not all bad news. Murphy’s choreography has some inventive lifts and plenty of nice flourishes – Odette scattering her prying wedding guests with a shotgun burst of fouettes was clever, for example. Fluffy-bottomed swan leotards aside Kristian Fredrikson has designed some beautiful Edwardian costumes and the Orchestra of English National Opera under Nicolette Fraillon was excellent.

Fredrikson’s set designs are underwhelming however and, though technically superb, Amber Scott, Adam Bull and Dimity Azoury didn’t really bring the three main characters to life. And to think I’d been so up for it before the curtain rose.

The Australian Ballet’s Swan Lake continues at the London Coliseum until 16 July 2016. Then, from 20 July 2016 they perform Cinderella. Information and tickets can be found on the London Coliseum website.

Gerard Davis

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