Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, the three great Russian classical ballet masterpieces which were created in the late 1800s, grace the repertoires of all reputable ballet companies worldwide. With surging scores by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, they take their audiences to the make-believe worlds of beautiful maidens transformed into swans by an evil magician; a lovely princess who pricks her finger and falls asleep for a hundred years; and a Christmas party where a little girl dreams of adventures with her nutcracker soldier doll. All fantasy, but absorbing, with each work complete in itself, woven together by a dramatic scenario and colourful, brilliant dancing. These three gargantuan terpsichorean works not only guarantee to pull in the punters but are also responsible for re-filling constantly hungry company coffers. While the staging of Swan Lake has often been modified over the years – the most famous of these productions have been by Matthew Bourne and Mats Eks – the soul or essence of the work has remained.
Danish director and choreographer Peter Schaufuss created his trilogy in 1995, and it is showing in London now for the first time. He has linked the three famed ballets together as a series of dream sequences – a nightmare, a sensual dream and a happy dream – while also hinting that the scenarios and music reflect Tchaikovsky’s personal struggle to come to terms with his homosexuality. But alas, here in the first of the trilogy programmes, his Swan Lake was seen as a complicated, colourless and choreographically weak production, adding nothing to the story, nor creating a new view of it.
The ballet begins with a Dream Maker lying on a bed, ready to weave his reveries. The prince is revealed under the bed and spends most of his initial moments standing motionless, clutching himself and thinking, even when the local lads and lassies – all in dull grey – dance behind him. His mother the Queen arrives – a cold, callous and calculating female with scraped-back hair and a long trailing black Lycra dress – and she holds him in a vice-like grasp, showing her power over him. His timid and sensitive nature is not even changed when his two companions – a couple of very tall, court jesters in one-piece grey outfits and looking very much like the faceless Wenlock and Mandeville Olympic mascots, with floppy bunny ears – prance childishly around him.
With a set that never changes – a mirrored backdrop and a lighted blue square downstage – the action ‘moves’ to the lakeside. Here on a raised platform and silhouetted in purple light, a few swans, in head-hugging caps and white all-in-ones with frilly 1980s flares, cavort like the title characters in a James Bond film. Changed into humans, with hair loosened, they come on stage, men as well as women, to dance. There are no traditional pointe shoes here – they are seen only in the final act – and the steps are basic, with no correlation to Petipa’s choreography. A quartet of men dance to the Big Swans music and the famous Little Swans is danced by four floppy-haired girls with a bit of welcome sparkle. Somehow amongst the activity, the Prince spots the Swan Girl and the two perform their famous musical duet on the floor, rolling over each other, visible in the mirrored reflection overhead. There is no poetic beauty and romance about their coupling and the recorded mix-and-match music does not create the rarefied mood associated with the original.
The second act saw a bit more vitality, with some good dancing from the four princesses vying for the Prince’s hand. There were more high-jinks from the comedy duo and the Queen was absorbed in activity of a different kind with Von Rothbart. His daughter set her eyes upon the poor hapless Prince, and their famous Black Swan pas de deux was – to put it delicately, not tasteful. Looking like an opium-den prostitute with her slinky black unitard and plaited pigtail, she performed a certain act on him that shook him up (at last) and the two cavorted like kittens who had overdosed on catmint.
Back at the lakeside, the 19 swans, whose reflections make the company double in size, performed some pleasing dancing, showing off effective swan-like wings which stretched out from their bodies when the Prince came searching for his beloved. The clowns came along too, still hopping and bouncing (no wonder he lost his marbles with friends like these), and as the ballet reached its final moments he was held up aloft bare-chested, while swans’ feathers trickled down from above to cover him. Had he changed into a swan, one wondered? Or were these the feathers from his heart-broken Swan Girl? Or did it matter?
Alban Lendorf, a member of Royal Danish Ballet, danced the role of the Prince, but sadly his talents were not visible until the last moments of the ballet when he took off his awful fluffy boxy jacket and was able to show his beautiful line. The long anticipated first viewing of the famous 1980/90s Bolshoi and Royal Ballet star Irek Mukhamedov was a huge disappointment as his role in this ballet consisted of little more than stalking the Queen with his daughter, the Black Swan, clinging onto his leather-coated back. Hopefully he will have more to do in the ensuing two ballets.
London ColiseumSt. Martin's Lane
London Greater London United Kingdom WC2N 4ES
Alban Lendorf in Peter Schaufuss' Swan Lake © Bo Kudsk Kristensen