Swan Lake. Music by P.I. Tchaikovsky. Russian National Ballet Theatre, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. October 29.
It was a sold-out house in Queanbeyan when the Russian National Ballet Theatre presented its production of Swan Lake. An enthusiastic audience saw a much-scaled-back version of Swan Lake, squashed onto a stage that was really too small for it, and danced by a company that tours relentlessly, often giving a series of exhausting one-night stands. The result was dancing that often looked as though the performers were not actually dancing but walking through the steps and gesturing automatically.
Nevertheless, it was a pleasant surprise to see such an improvement in technique from the dancers of this company. On their visit to Canberra in 2013, when they also showed Swan Lake, I was shocked by their poor classical technique. This time, while the dancing wasn't outstanding, at least there were some watchable moments. There were times when the corps de ballet danced together well to produce choreographic patterns; Odette, the Swan Queen, and her evil counterpart, Odile the Black Swan, performed adequately if somewhat roughly; the national dances in Act III had some verve to them; and there was one dark-haired dancer, who played a friend of the Prince in Act I and a potential fiancee in Act III, who really stood out as a quality performer.
On the other hand, the gentleman who danced Prince Siegfried, who vows he loves Odette, and who, after a problematic encounter with Odile, breaks the curse that has turned Odette into a swan, had little feeling for the role. His facial expression scarcely changed throughout the evening, and his gestures were quite listless and without any expressive power that might draw an audience into the story. The whole drama of the situation was completely lost. And, while the corps de ballet of swans kept together for the most part, they badly needed coaching in how to move their arms so that they looked like swans rather than young tutu-clad women flapping their arms up and down. Every gesture should convey a meaning and in this production that didn't happen.
Swan Lake is a beautiful ballet, full of drama and emotion. Even the outdated version performed by the Russian National Ballet Theatre, which dates to about the 1950s with its jester and its strange ending where the swans discover they have arms rather than wings, can be a dramatic and moving production. This one missed the boat in so many ways, although the audience for the most part didn't seem to mind. For me, at least it was better than last time.