Artistic Director / Choreographer: David Nixon OBE
Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Reviewer: Beverley Haigh
The past few years have seen Northern Ballet developing their body of work, David Nixon OBE heralding brand new ballets and providing innovative additions to their ever growing portfolio of work. Continuing the success of last year’s 1984, Northern Ballet adds Jane Eyre to their current season, alongside the classic Swan Lake.
But herein lies the twist. Nixon’s latest version is an updated reworking of Tchaikovsky’s most famous ballet, taking the piece in a whole new direction, creating “a more contemporary story, while retaining the traditional elements”. There is no Prince Siegfried, no Black Swan as such and no Von Rothbart with his meddling, which leads to the ultimate demise of the central characters in this cursed love story.
Instead, what we do have is a modern love triangle. Siegfried is replaced by Anthony, whose best friend Simon competes for his affection. Friends of both young men, Odilia is also in love with Anthony. Anthony struggles to come to terms with his feelings for Simon so seeks solace in doomed, mystical swan-like creature Odette. She emerges from the lake, a mythical ideal, a dream-like figure or even a figment of Anthony’s imagination for him to turn to and find comfort in from a place that holds so much intrigue and torture for Anthony, his brother having drowned in the lake many years previously, for which his mother still holds him responsible.
The lake scenes are by far the strongest in this production, providing elements of humour early on as the men enter the water; later fulfilling the role of keeping the traditionalists happy with the requisite corp de ballet swan scenes and beautifully performed Dance of the Little Swans. As expected from the highly accomplished Northern Ballet, these scenes do not disappoint. The precision of the footwork and level of skill displayed is exceptional in this main body of the ballet where Tchaikovsky’s score is most recognisable, fundamental to even an updated version.
Set in the bygone era of the Belle Époque, the clever costuming allows for other integral aspects to be achieved. At Anthony’s coming of age party in Act II, Odilia’s dramatic arrival in black feathered coat acknowledges her alignment with the role of the Black Swan. When she removes the coat to reveal a white dress and feathered headpiece she becomes reminiscent of the swan at the centre of Anthony’s affections. The climax of this act results in Antony and Simon’s affections becoming actualized and as an escape and by way of pleasing his mother, Anthony reluctantly agrees to comply and marry Odilia.
The torturous concluding scene that follows sees Anthony’s return to the moonlit lake and find his eternal peace among the swans. Although dramatic and heart-wrenching and also visually stunning – a blue sheet encompassing Anthony as the water engulfs him, the emotions seem less heightened than in the more familiar version. The lack of mystique and curse surrounding the swans, the anguish as Odette becomes so close to her freedom and happy ending before being tricked by Van Rothbart and his daughter leave this production devoid of empathy for the characters and the passion needed for the usual audience response.
Knowledge of previous productions inevitably draws comparisons, which in this case are not entirely helpful. It may be more appropriate to leave the preconceptions behind and to approach Nixon’s version of Swan Lake with a fresh pair of eyes. There are omissions from some of the earlier productions of this story, which make it less evocative but there are also some real strengths as Nixon makes it more relevant for modern audiences. This latest production should be seen and enjoyed for what it is: a truly exceptional tragic ballet that depicts the struggles within contemporary society. It has achieved its aim of continuing the history of such a masterpiece and ensuring ballet continues to develop, securing its place for future audiences.
Runs until 19th March 2016| Image:Emma Kauldhar