Swan Lake

Choreography Graeme Murphy, music Piotr Ilych Tchaikovsky
The Australian Ballet
London Coliseum

Adam Bull and Amber Scott in Graeme Murphy's Australian Ballet Swan Lake Credit: Jim McFarlane
Amber Scott and artists in Graeme Murphy's Australian Ballet Swan Lake Credit: Lisa Tomasetti
Adam Bull and Amber Scott in Graeme Murphy's Australian Ballet Swan Lake Credit: Jeff Busby
Artists of The Australian Ballet in Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake Credit: Jeff Busby
Amber Scott in Graeme Murphy's Australian Ballet Swan Lake Credit: Jeff Busby
Adam Bull and Amber Scott in Graeme Murphy's Australian Ballet Swan Lake Credit: Jeff Busby

The Australian Ballet dancers are an energetic lot, a pleasure to watch, and the Orchestra of English National Opera under the baton of Nicolette Fraillon rises admirably to the occasion following the ‘original order of the score’, apparently, not the one many of us are familiar with, moving Odile’s Act III fouettés to Odette’s in act I, for instance.

There is no Odile; the black swan is Odette’s ‘black dog’ depression. Swan Lake is now a psychodrama set in the Edwardian era. Spoiler alert: her life disappears down a plughole.

Odette marries Prince Siegfried, who already has a married mistress, the Baroness von Rothbart. No matter how hard she tries to win his, his mother’s and the court’s favour, Odette is on a loser from the start. Court intrigue and fickle fancy send her mind into a spin and her to a sanatorium, where she imagines first she’s a white swan, then a black.

An overindulged spoilt heir to the throne torn between two women, remind you of anything or anyone? Is choreographer Graeme Murphy a republican? Have Charles and Camilla been invited to see the production? Diana, of course, danced with Wayne Sleep, who was in the audience tonight.

Infiltrating classical ballet with contemporary—there are some unusual acrobatic lifts and moves—Murphy’s crossover Swan Lake, produced to mark the company’s 40th anniversary in 2002, is one for the Hello and OK celebrity prurient world: something old, something new, something borrowed, something ‘blue’. And pretty chest-bumping girls with parasols in a pas de six.

The night before her wedding, lurking in the shadows, Odette becomes aware that she is not the one the Prince seeks in the black draped palace. On her wedding day, further humiliations await, as well as Hungarian dancers who step down from a small theatre stage by the lake.

Her first waltz with Siegfried has her dress train getting in the way, then bad turns worse. If you can’t beat them, join them: Amber Scott’s delicate Odette does just that, leaping from man to man, sending the hypocritical court spinning and dodging her fouetté legs, before collapsing like Giselle. Royal Physician and two nuns in face-obscuring white habits take Odette away, whilst the Baroness makes her intentions clear as she sits on the chair his mother has vacated.

In a white-tiled bathroom, Odette, becalmed by shower treatment, from her window seat looking out on to a black and white woodcut forest print by Escher (Rippled Surface) sees her husband and his mistress. He pops in for a quick visit. Is he remorseful? The Prince, blowing hot and cold, drives Odette further insane.

Her mind gone, she becomes a white swan and we get the white lake scene almost intact with its sixteen swan maidens, two lead swans and cygnets (very good) in a silvery sugar plum fairy landscape. A wish fulfilment pas de deux with her Prince, full of romantic yearning, follows.

Amber Scott’s Odette is bewitching and graceful, arms liquid, fingers fragile. Long-limbed Adam Bull’s Siegfried has a princely line and a coltish elegance. He also has something of the late Christopher Gable in his face, which, of course, makes me think of Lynn Seymour and leads my mind to Kenneth MacMillan’s mad outsider, Anastasia.

His remorse doesn't stop him from attending the Baroness’s cocktail party in her ebony black palace for her select friends. There’s a great gay bouncy duet from Brett Chynoweth and Cameron Hunter as an Earl and his Equerry... Odette appears, the uninvited guest: she’s broken out of the asylum.

Here we really hit the black and white Hollywood forties melodramatic weepie. Time stands still, slow motion tropes abound. The music sees us through. The women fight, one a clinging vine the other a burden on Siegfried’s back. Three orbiting planets, three people in a crowded marriage.

The Baroness is ferocious: the silly girl has broken up her glam evening. Dimity Azoury is tremendous, her couture outfits are gorgeous (costume and picture book set by the late Kristian Fredrikson), but her solo to Janice Graham’s searing violin is too long.

In the final act, by the oil black lake, Odette appears in her wedding dress; Siegfried finds her; she rips off her dress and lo, she is a black swan underneath. Lightning flashes, she has a final tender pas de deux with her husband; they promise eternal love and she disappears into the muddy waters, which drain away leaving the world white and renewed, as he stands weeping.

Last seen in the UK in 2008, The Australian Ballet brings two ballets for a two-week season at the Coliseum. Alexei Ratmansky's Cinderella next week will mark the company's 25th international tour in its 54-year history.

Reviewer: Vera Liber