Venue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), Feb 20 – 28, 2015
Choreographer: Graeme Murphy
Images by Branco Gaica and Lisa Tomasetti
Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake is deeply romantic, with a narrative involving a love triangle, savage betrayals, and a descent into madness. It depicts emotions that many are familiar with, only with an intensity that few can bear to experience. Having established a framework with Tchaikovsky’s music from 1876, Murphy’s creation is a fantastical universe based on the old tale of a young maiden’s heartbreak, drawing on its supernatural elements and the woeful tragedy that befalls her. First performed in 2002, this recent incarnation of Swan Lake is faithful to classical styles, but also modern in its sensibilities. Murphy’s characteristic use of fabrics is incorporated into his choreography on several occasions, the physical expression of insanity is refreshingly unconventional, and the removal of sorcerers and curses from its story to provide a contemporised context of mental illness, all contribute to a production that is of and for our times.
The work is operatic and epic in tone, and its duration is certainly not brief. The three-act saga can feel self-indulgent in the later portions of the piece, but execution on all fronts is consistently of a high standard. Kristian Fredrikson’s sets and costumes, and Damien Cooper’s lights in the century old Capitol Theatre is a dream materialised before our eyes. As a thing of beauty, Swan Lake is intricately constructed to deliver a luxuriant feast for the senses, appealing especially to our need for traditional aesthetics that offer comfort, as well as offering a sublime sensuality that is best represented by those who know their bodies best.
Dancers of The Australian Ballet are vibrant and enthusiastic, almost rhapsodic in their connection with their assignment. Their enthusiasm is a source of infectious joy, and there are few pleasures in life sweeter than witnessing accomplished dancers caught in a moment of euphoria. Madeleine Eastoe as the forlorn Odette, proves herself to be a formidable talent with physical abilities that enthral, an impressive capacity to convey emotion, and most of all, an innate understanding of grace that brings a sense of the sublime to her performance. Eastoe has a quietly magnetic presence, but she delivers all the dynamic range required of the choreography, often surprising us by the power that radiates from her slight being.
Odette’s retreat into a secure space of her imagination is symbolic of the increasingly insular ways we live our lives. With the evolution of technology, and the increase in wealth in many cities, we are more than ever before, disconnected from one another. The ballet is a social institution, an enjoyment of which cannot be replaced by any screen of any size. Life can seem too daunting and reality can sometimes be too painful, but artists do what they do, so that we can enter into their world momentarily to find an instance of contact. It is magic to see world class talent in action on a grand old stage, and it is also magic to sit in the dark with many hundreds of others who are for a few minutes, looking at and hoping for the same things.