Swan Lake is such an ethereal classic that it is difficult to imagine it as grounded in an explicit historical setting; yet this is what the Queensland Ballet has achieved in this fresh and richly textured production. Choreographer and artistic director Francois Klaus sets the ballet around the last Russian Tsar Nicholas and his future bride Alexandra in the tumultuous period leading up to the Russian Revolution of the Bolsheviks in 1917.
The story is woven around the character of Mathilde Kschessinska, a star of the Maryinsky Theatre where she danced under the direction of Petipa.
Nicholas, danced strongly by Alex Wagner, falls in love with Kschessinska at a small reception following the graduating performance of her class at the Imperial Ballet School.
An original twist to the traditional themes of the ballet arises when Alexandra, as rival for Nicholas’ affections, dances the role of the Black Swan Odile. Clare Phipps gives an impressive performance in the role of Alexandra/Odile.
The Swan Queen, Odette, is danced beautifully by Clare Morehen.
Whereas the traditional “Swan Lake” has the evil magician Rothbart responsible for duping Siegfried into swearing his fidelity to Rothbart’s daughter, Odile, in this production the manipulative villain is none other than Rasputin whose machinations form a backdrop to the downfall of the imperial dynasty.
The corps de ballet dance wonderfully through the different moods of the ballet, providing a rich context for the tragic love story which is unfolding. Significantly also, the Zen Zen Zo physical theatre artists capture a sense of the hardships and conflicts befalling Russian workers and peasants during that period and give an insight into the sparks which burst into revolutionary flame.
The Queensland Orchestra with Warwick Adeney played the familiar strains of Tschaikovsky’s music with feeling and passion.
The production shows fidelity to the great traditions of ballet, yet somehow leads us beyond the magic of the swans into the social and political upheaval of the people at large. In so doing it renders irrelevant the false dichotomy between the personal and the political and places truth and beauty at the centre of human affairs; which is as it should be.
Choreography by Francois Klaus.
6th to 20th December 2008
Duration: 2 hours with one interval (20 minutes)