Q U E E N S L A N D B A L L E T
Score by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (arr. Christopher van Tuinen)
With the Queensland Symphony Orchestra
12 December 2011
When this production ended the 2008 Queensland Ballet season I described it as, “An extraordinarily emotional and sumptuous production”.
All I can do is repeat the words - and add that during the three years that have passed the dancers who repeated their roles had that extra edge of performance skill.
François Klaus’s interpretation of Swan Lake is set in 19th century Russia. He adapted the true facts of the love affair between prima ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska and the young prince Nicholas, who was destined to become the last Tsar of Russia, and wove them into the Swan Lake story.
The tale is told through the eyes of Kschessinska. It begins in a studio in Paris where she made her living as a revered teacher of dance after her stage career was over. She reminisces and the story unfolds until the epilogue when she is back in her studio with a student and the story ends as it began.
The drama of the ill-fated love of Odette for Siegfried was transferred to the prince and the dancer, and so, to keep the traditional second act intact, Nicholas sat on a chair and watched Kschessinska as she danced Odette.
Instead of the sorcerer Rothbart being the villain in the main plotline it was the charismatic monk Rasputin. He was the one who used his charm to help Alexandra steal Nicholas away from Kschessinska by persuading her to pretend to be Kschessinska by dressing in a black swan costume.
In 2008, Clare Morehen, in the roles of Kschessinska, and Odette in Act two, was a newly promoted soloist. She is now a principal dancer and, where she was impressive last time, on the opening night of this new production she was superb.
She danced with supreme confidence and was absolutely at the peak of performance and never missed a beat with her dance or in her acting. She was an absolute joy to watch.
Since 2008, Keian Langdon, who danced the difficult role of Rasputin, has been promoted to Principal Dancer and in this production he showed us why. He is a tremendously strong dancer with a great fluidity in movement and his acting was excellent too as he imbued the monk with sheer evil and a perpetual air of menace.
He transferred this menace to the role to Rothbart in the traditional Petipa-choreographed Act Two of Swan Lake. This was one for the purists with tutus galore, magical footwork, and the immensely popular Dance of the Cygnets. This legendary piece of dance was performed with precision by Tery Crilley, Tamara Hanson, Gemma Pearce and Lina Kim.
The role of Nicholas was danced by new principal Hao Bin. It is a restrained role with a lot of sitting and not too much dancing until the final Black Swan pas de deux. There he danced with Meng Ningning, his long time partner and wife, who danced Alexandra. How beautifully they worked together. The tall wiry Hao Bin showed amazing strength, stamina, and balance as he dominated the stage with Meng Ningning who is one of the most graceful and elegant dancers ever to join the company.
Where there are scenes of emotion and drama there are also scenes of grandeur in the royal palace and light-hearted fun in the Russian café. There Teri Crilley worked with her flashing smile and sheer exuberance as one of the Russian dancers along with Lisa Edwards, Tamara Hanton, Alex Koszarycz, who is starting to make his mark, Robert McMillan, Sarah Thompson, another exuberant young dancer. Guy Wheatstone and Yu Hui. Yu Hui also repeated the role of Dmitri, the friend of Nicholas and showed off his prowess with powerful leaps and balance. He was very popular with the audience.
I did enjoy Kathleen Doody as a Spanish dancer - even when she was not dancing. Her flirtatious teasing of the men at the bar as she swung her long red hair and flaunted her body to taunt was very convincingly. It was difficult, sometimes, to concentrate on the dancers at the front of the stage! She’d make a good Carmen!
The power was there for full impact in Act Four when the end of Imperial Russia and the murder of the Tsar, his wife and five children were acted out with the help of the Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre actors. I had forgotten how powerful the ending was as the stage was flooded with blood red light and Tchaikovsky’s music thundered in from the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. It was fantastic and one of the most dramatic and effective scenes in the ballet. It was brilliantly lit by David Walters, whose design added so much to the success of the production as did the imaginative sets created by Graham Maclean and the magnificent costumes designed by Noelene Hill.
It is a stunning ballet.
12 December 2011