Northern Ballet's New Production of Swan Lake


When it comes to ballet I am a purist.

I was nearly three when I was taken to the theatre to see Alicia Markova and Anton Dolan dance. Since then I’ve seen different ballet companies perform literally all over the world and had the mind blowing experience of seeing Nureyev and Fonteyn and other great performers like Ashton, Helpman and Baryshnikov..

I love classical ballet but my blood pressure rises when I see classical works re-invented – it’s almost like re-writing the bible.

So what is it about Swan Lake that makes everyone want to re-invent it and add a homosexual theme to this work that has been delighting audiences since the late 1800’s?

I am no old fuddy-duddy and I love contemporary dance and modern ballet works – but how can you explain the storyline in these versions to a 4 or 5 year old who has come for the sheer magic and fairytale of this work.

Yes, it has a dark side but it is cloaked in the original story and that’s where it should stay.

Northern Ballet’s production of Swan Lake is reinvention of the original story, in fact bears little resemblance to the original, but does, thankfully, retain some of the traditional elements.

The story begins with the loss in childhood of Anthony’s beloved brother – a guilt that he carries into his future life. After this incident he is drawn by the lake, which entices him into a deeper darker world.

Haunted by this tragedy he becomes confused about his feelings. Are these for Odila, his friend and later wife or for his best friend Simon who competes for his affection? The ultimate happens and a love triangle begins.

When the mystical swan-like creature Odette emerges from the lake she brings comfort and peace to Anthony – could she be his lost brother? We never know.

Taking into account my feeling about re-inventing the most popular ballet in the world, that I have seen around 40 times, I have to admit that the idea behind the new plot is a good one. But do we really want to think deeply about the hidden meanings in the story? Or do we want to enjoy the escapism that is found in our best loved classical ballets?

David Nixon’s choreography, as always, borders on brilliance. The swans are given beautiful natural movements, with less of a stiff balletical stylised nature, and one almost believes that they are these ethereal creatures. And I was very pleased, I must say, that the choreography for the Dance of the Signets seemed to stick to the original.

The opening sequence of the ballet with the boys playing rugby, was far too long and becomes rather repetitive and boring after a while leaving the audience wondering what has this to do with the plot.

Tobias Batley, as the tortured Anthony, was outstanding displaying the confusion, repressed feelings and emotions with the utmost believability.

As Simon, Nicola Gervas had everything the character demanded of him and mastered a difficult role to dance. As always Martha Leebolt (Odette) was simply amazing with some very tricky lifts that her and Batley executed to perfection and made look so fluid and easy.

Aymi Miyata (Odilla) was the dreamlike ballerina, who will inspire and encourage every little girl in the audience to rush out for point shoes and a tutu! Gracefully she executed the choreography with perfection and emotion.

But accolade of the night must go to musical director John Pryce-Jones and his orchestra. Tchaikovsky is not easy to play, but Pryce-Jones mastered a score that demands both tenderness and drama. He brought an orchestral triumph to Swan Lake from the pit.

Swan Lake isn’t really the Swan Lake we know and love. You’ll either love it or hate it but for lovers of dance it’s a must to go and see – but leave the budding ballerinas of primary school age at home or you’ll certainly have some explaining to do.

Liz Coggins

Swan Lake continues at the Grand Theatre until 12 March then tours to Sheffield Lyceum, Norwich Theatre Royal and Milton Keynes The4atre

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