The Australian Ballet is in town and we went to see Graeme Murphy's version of Swan Lake. We were left with some rather mixed feelings. The work is original and entertaining but lacks the emotional impact of the Petipas/Ivanov version which has accrued layers of "improvements", none of which distracted from the spiritual intensity and mysticism of the original. We have never been able to watch Max Beloserkovsky dance the role of Siegfried at American Ballet Theater without being completely convinced of his backstory and feeling intense grief over his being deceived by the evil Von Rothbart; if not sobbing at the end we have at the very least been dabbing at the tears on our cheeks evoked by the unwitting betrayal of Irina Dvorovenko's Odette, who can be so intensely immersed in her swanhood with her avian arm movements and long lean lines. (That they are not dancing as partners this season at ABT is another source of grief!)
Now what has Mr. Murphy wrought? A tired old story of a love triangle between three people that WE DO NOT CARE ABOUT! Odette is a bride whose husband is still in love with an old flame, the very married and unpleasant Baroness von Rothbart. Prince Siegfried at his own wedding seems to prefer the Baroness. Performed by Kevin Jackson, this Siegfried evinces no backstory. We don't have a clue about who he is or why he is marrying Odette. A tall woman in a big hat seems to be The Queen (his mother?) and she also seems to prefer the Baroness. So it doesn't appear that Siegfried has married Odette to please his mother.
Poor Odette, danced by Madeleine Eastoe, exhibits her jealousy, behaves wildly and is carted off to a mental institution by a black garbed doctor and two white garbed nuns with extravagant headdresses. Ms. Eastoe is a strong dancer but lacks the long limbs necessary for a beautiful line. The dancing was quite fine all the way through, including the hateful Baroness, danced by Lucinda Dunn. BUT, there was no poetry or depth to the performances.
We might have enjoyed the lengthy (3 hours) piece better if it had not made the pretense of being related to the ballet we know and love. We did observe a number of tributes to the original and were not cheated out of the dance of the four cygnets. The Hungarian dance was moved to the wedding celebration in Act I. The reordering of Tchaikovsky's music, ably conducted by Nicolette Fraillion, Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Australian Ballet and played by the New York City Ballet Orchestra, did not trouble us. Mr. Murphy used it as he saw fit and did some very interesting choreography in the adagios and for the corps as well, especially in the first act wedding scene and the third act party scene. Yes, THAT scene in which Odette flees the loony bin and crashes the party and wins Siegfried back. And if you think it ends THERE you will be mistaken.
The lovely and simple sets as well as the vaguely Edwardian costumes, both by Kristian Fredrikson, added to the production. The lakeside scenes presented women who may or may not have been swans in shorter skirts that may or may not have been meant to look like feathers. We couldn't stop thinking "Send in the Swans!"