Swan Lake !
Mere mention of the title will cause ballet aficionados eyes to light up and wonder who is performing ? Is it any good ? Does it charm, does it make you sigh and weep ? Or are we having to endure an evening of ‘thumping swans’ ?
No chance of the latter, I assure you. There is every chance that you will be lost for words after this production. And indeed it is a little difficult to write about it without venturing into hyperbole. But it was better than good, it was fantastic. And the almost full houses at the Civic so far this week would heartily agree, I am sure.
As good luck would have it, I attended two separate performances with two different lead casts. A necessity because of the technical and physical demands on the leads but also a chance for the versatility of the company to show through. Artistic Director Ethan Steifel’s influence on the company is now clear. There is discipline and co-ordination in abundance but without sacrificing any of the poise and grace which defines ballet as an art.
The plot you know. Or, at least, you think you know. This is, of course, Russell Kerr’s production which is modeled after the Petipa-Ivanov original so there are a few tweaks without major revisions of the familiar. But I’ll adopt the wonderful précis provided by Moata in her stuff.co.nz blog the other day for Acts 1 and 2: peasants, princey guy, clowny guy, crossbow with unfortunate Game of Thrones associations, dancey-dancey-dancey, spooky smoke, birdy women. With costumes and leaping.
The Princey guys were the RNZB’s Kohei Iwamoto on Thursday and New Zealander Ty King-Wall, principal at the Australian Ballet and making a guest appearance in this production on Friday. Iwamoto is one of the company’s most consistent dancers over recent years and showed unerring technique throughout. He was the perfect Siegfried to Lucy Green’s Odette both in stature and style. King-Wall has magnificent presence on stage and commands attention throughout justifying his reputation and standing as a leading dancer.
As for the birdy women, much has been written about the outstanding Guest Principal Gillian Murphy who performed on opening night. What is impressive is the alternate leads do not provide any less quality giving this season depth which is a huge positive. On Thursday Lucy Green, got her chance to shine and did it very well indeed, befitting her status within the company. On Friday, Amber Scott, principal at the Australian Ballet was compelling. The fact that she and King-Wall are partners on stage and off it added the extra romantic and emotional spark so necessary to tell the story effectively and it showed whenever they were together.
The ‘clowny guys’ were Helio Lima and Rory Fairweather-Neylan respectively. Lima got good air in his solos but Fairweather-Neylan impressed with more comic presence and character especially in Act 3.
It would be wrong to forget the birdy man too. Dimitri Kleioris and Paul Matthews both provided excellent Rothbarts and Lucy Green’s duets with Kleioris in particular were impressive in their absolute co-ordination.
The corps de ballet were very good, whether as the villagers in Act 1or as the swans in Act 2. A notable highlight on Thursday was Mayu Tanigaito’s solos in the pas de trois which were a technical delight to watch. In Act 3, you have the prospective brides and their entourages – Spanish, Hungarian and Neapolitan respetively. The RNZB’s rotation policy was employed well and highlights included Lucy Balfour, Arata Miyagawa, Lima and Kleioris in the Spanish, Clytie Campbell in the Hungarian and Adriana Harper in the Neapolitan.
Act 4 was utterly compelling from the moment the curtain went up. The strength of the swans as they gathered around Siegfried and Odette to protect them and to break from von Rothbart’s spell was mesmerising and might alone even have been the highlight of this production. It seemed to have finished in a flash, leaving us wanting a few minutes more just to take it all in.
Throughout, the costumes designed by the late Kristian Frederikson are entrancing even though we might have seen them before. They have not aged. The music which is eminently recognisable and provided by Tchaikovsky was well performed by the Auckland Philharmonia with RNZB Music Director Nigel Gaynor pacing the orchestra with a steady hand.
Overall, it was a heady mix of rapture and entrancement. A wonderful evening out.