It takes a brave person to change something that is iconic and established in tradition, but that is exactly what David Dawson has done with the Scottish Ballet’s production of Swan Lake. David’s design for this new production has stripped away much of the trappings of this 140 year old ballet; gone are the tutus, the elaborate sets and even the men in tights.
In their place we have a set that has clean curves in monochrome that creates a mood but doesn’t fix the piece into a particular period. In the first scene of Act One the dancers are in vibrant colours, the women in contemporary dance style dresses and the men in jackets and tight trousers, this again creates a timeless quality drawing the attention of the audience to every movement and line they create, no distractions from the simple set. This is echoed in the first scene of Act Two, with the women of the chorus in blue flowing dresses and The Three Inamoratas in red, orange and yellow; each colour perfectly symbolising the characterisation of the dancers.
For the woodland scenes an abstract lattice of lines descends that evokes trees or maybe even nests. The swans are in white and because of the removal of the tutu you can see every line to perfection.
David’s choreography has also changed the feel of the piece, but it is no less beautiful and impactful. The most striking difference is the iconic Dance of the Little Swans, gone is the line of dancers moving sideways across the stage and in this production we have, for me, a much more realistic re-imagining of the wild cygnets. In addition, there are moments in the choreography when the dancers slide across the stage, evoking the glide of the swans across the water and of dancers in a ballroom, beautiful touches that enliven the pieces. The whole company of quite young dancers gave their all tonight, really embodying the character and emotion of the piece, but with a freshness and contemporary feel. There was a unity of purpose and movement that created a backdrop for the soloists to shine.
Special mention has to go to the Principal dancer Sophie Martin, playing both Odette and Odile. She danced with such beauty and elegance, seamlessly morphing between human and swan-like forms; her portrayal of Odile being extremely sensual. She was ably supported by Christopher Harrison, as Siegfried - when they danced together there was such intense emotions, such love and loss, perfection. Christopher himself, created a character that was alienated from the parties and socialising; his solo pieces with powerful and evocative, an outstanding performance.
Overall, David’s new choreography is dense and interesting, there is so much for the audience to look at, this is a masterpiece of reinvention. In fact the whole experience is much like the music of Tchaikovsky’s amazing score, which is already highly charged with emotion as it swells towards the final crescendo. Richard Honner, conducting the sublime Scottish Ballet Orchestra, creates a musical platform on which the dancers can soar. He has a sensitivity and deep respect for the score and there were moments when I was completely caught up in the beauty of it.
Richard and David, with the extremely talented company of the Scottish Ballet, have created something that is truly breathtaking. It is fresh and interesting, a feast for the eyes and the emotions. This is a Swan Lake that is accessible for a new generation but which honours the past. It is timeless, touching, a triumph. It continues its sell out run at the Liverpool Empire until Saturday.
Reviewer: Alan Harbottle
Reviewed: 1st June 2016
North West End Rating: ★★★★★