New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a
list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always performance at its best.
Go back to Flash Reviews
Review 2, 12-4: Swan's Fresh Feathers
A New Classic and a New Star are Born at the Australian Ballet
By Suzanne Davidson
Copyright 2002 Suzanne Davidson
SYDNEY -- Arriving at
the Sydney Opera House for the local premiere of Graeme Murphy's
"Swan Lake" Friday, one was confronted with a large ice sculpture
of a swan at the base of the staircase leading from the box office
foyer to the southern foyer of the Opera Theatre. Going up the steps,
one walked on alternately black and white be-ribboned steps, arriving
at the top to a string quartet playing under a black and white awning,
while waiters offered 'savories' to champagne-sipping members of
the audience. One had unmistakably arrived at An Event!
A couple of hours earlier,
the heavens had opened over Sydney and the audience had literally
inched their way to the Opera House, most taking at least twice
as long as usual to reach the icon-on-the-peninsula. To avoid people
being locked out for the first act, the curtain was held -- twice
-- and the Sydney premiere of this "Swan Lake" opened half an hour
As I'd attended the
world premiere in Melbourne, some weeks ago, this was my second
experience, and this time my seat was rather further away from the
stage than for my first viewing. That may have been why my reaction
wasn't quite as emotional as the first time. Nevertheless, from
the moment the curtain rose I was completely involved in the fortunes
of the tragic young Princess, her weak new husband, the ambitious
and manipulative Baroness, and the general shenanigans of the 'Court.'
Maybe the fact that we have all been subjected to acres of print
and footage about the Windsor "fairy-tale" had something to do with
it? Perhaps, but the piece communicated from the first moment --
even to the second-last row in the Stalls.
There have been many
different productions of this great classic, some more interesting
than others, but all totally recognizable as variations on the original.
The Australian Ballet's
Inaugural production on November 2 1962 was Peggy van Praagh's rather
unimaginative staging of the evening-length Petipa-Ivanov "Swan
Lake." The last production in the Australian Ballet's repertoire
was Anne Woolliams's version, with a heart-rending pas de deux choreographed
for Act IV.
However, whilst this
"Swan Lake" is a 21st Century vision inspired by the same Tchaikovsky
score which had inspired Petipa and Ivanov back in the 19th Century,
it is also a completely new ballet.
It is the same tale,
but seen from today's perspective and told in today's language.
That is why I believe that it will, in time, become a classic in
its own right.
The choreography uses
the vocabulary of today's classical dancer whose body can cope with
virtually any style and technique. It has become fashionable these
days for choreographers to include 'modern' movements in their choreography,
which invariably looks forced and makes one wonder why they bothered
to mess with the original at all. This new "Swan Lake" is filled
with superbly musical, creative, and often witty choreography, always
using the most appropriate of the dance vocabulary. And it's a tribute
to the Australian company -- but particularly to Simone Goldsmith,
who created the role of Odette -- that the dancers not only coped
with every nuance, but that their artistry enabled them to add a
Most of the 19th Century
repertoire that became the classics was the result of the collaboration
of a number of leaders in their professions. That is also true of
this production, which was created by choreographer Graeme Murphy,
creative associate Janet Vernon, designer Kristian Fredrikson, and
lighting designer Damian Cooper.
Whilst a work is only
as good as its interpreters, it wouldn't surprise me if this "Swan
Lake" proves to be (almost) performer-proof.
Last night (as at the
world premiere) was indisputably Simone Goldsmith's night.
In Act I, one can feel
goosebumps as Goldsmith switches from graceful elegance to manic
physicality as she decides to emulate the Baroness in an effort
to make her husband jealous. She flies around the stage distributing
her sexual favors in a fury, as she is thrown around by the corps
in a terrifyingly acrobatic series of lifts.
In Act II, which opens
in a sanatorium for the mentally ill, she crouches in the window-sill
watching as her husband arrives with the Baroness, who stays outside
to wait for him. As he approaches her, Goldsmith's entire body is
contorted with suffering and fear, but she slowly allows herself
to relax sufficiently to become once more the beautiful girl we
first saw, in love and glowing. But as the act draws to its conclusion,
we are back in the sanatorium and she is back in her nerve-wracked
body, rocking slowly backwards and forwards. It's terrifying to
In Act III, having decided
to make a last attempt to get her husband back, Odette arrives at
a party thrown by the Baroness, who, seeing the Prince react to
his wife's calm, serene beauty, fights desperately but unsuccessfully
to retain him. The whole audience was giggling in relief, as Odette
calmly took over from the hated Baroness.
Goldsmith and Steven Heathcote of the Australian Ballet in Graeme
Murphy's new "Swan Lake." Jeff Busby photo courtesy the Australian
Simone Goldsmith is
the possessor of a perfect classical line, from her well-shaped
head and long neck to her superbly arched feet. This tiny, beautiful,
princess-like figure has the capacity to contort herself in front
of your eyes into a puppet-like picture of horrible, gauche suffering,
enough to wring your heart, but never over-done. Her technique and
placing are perfection, and this, combined with a deep artistry
and musicality, place this young ballerina among the international
Steven Heathcote, one
of the most popular stars this company has ever had, received a
well-deserved ovation, as did Lynette Wills. But when Goldsmith
came out in front of the curtain, the whole place went berserk.
She had yet again given the audience an artistic experience, which
lingers in the memory for a lifetime. The Australian Ballet's newest
principal artist is indeed an artist of world class.
Steven Heathcote's Prince
has grown in depth since the world premiere. His development from
a spoilt, golden, youthful bridegroom easily manipulated by a sophisticated,
worldly lover, to a more mature man who discovers genuine love just
in time to lose it, was beautifully drawn. Lynette Wills has not
yet discovered all the dramatic possibilities in the role of the
Baroness, but these are early days, and her sheer physicality and
strength help in establishing the great difference between the two
Adrian Burnett, on the
other hand, made the most of the tiny role of the Baroness's cuckolded
husband, lending it a quiet dignity.
Joshua Consandine made
an engaging Duke, though Madeleine Eastoe, his Young Duchess-to-be,
tended to overdo the 'bright young thing' quality of her character.
Rachael Read and Annabel
Bronner Reid led the swans with superb classical style and smoothly
perfected performances. The performance of the corps in Act II was
perfectly unified in dancing the new choreography, which was a miracle
of creative contemporary interpretation of the 19th Century original.
The start of the cygnets' dance is a wonderful example of Murphy's
witty touch. After all, as former Australian Ballet artistic director
Maina Gielgud said when she commissioned Murphy to choreograph a
new "Nutcracker," "he comes from the classics, the classical technique
is his language, and so he can play with it."
The production also
has a number of older members of the Court whose performances benefited
from age and experience, though this cannot be said of Shane Carroll's
interpretation of The Queen. She lacked weight and dimension, and
it was difficult to fathom her attitude to her son, his new wife
and the Baroness. This seriously undermined the dramatic sense of
The sets and costumes
were perfect, except, again, for The Queen's costume, which added
to her problem in at least establishing her position of seniority
and class. Her first entrance is in an enormous hat and wearing
a skirt of an unflattering length. The members of her Court looked
a great deal more grand than she did.
The lighting was excellent
throughout, with a wonderful sense of illusion and sudden returns
to harsh reality, which strengthened the dramatic impact of many
The Australian Opera
and Ballet Orchestra under the baton of Principal Conductor Mark
Summerbell gave a satisfyingly dramatic and clear performance of
Tchaikovsky's score, and one which supported the dancers.
The entire company gave
its all, and the curtain calls went on too long to continue counting.
The audience reacted as one, spontaneously cheering, stamping and
The last time I remember
seeing a performance of such realism and artistic integrity was
a "Romeo & Juliet" by the Bolshoi Ballet with Ulanova and Fadeyechev
in the leading roles, at Covent Garden in the '50s.
Now there's a thought!
Should that perhaps be the next Murphy/Vernon/Fredrikson epic?
The Australian Ballet
in Graeme Murphy's version of "Swan Lake" continues at the Sydney
Opera House through December 19, with the cast reviewed here repeating
tomorrow and Saturday, again on December 13 and 19, and at next
Suzanne Davidson is a Sydney-based writer and the founder of
the Sydney Dance Company. She also danced for Peter Darrell's Western
Theatre Ballet, the Australian Ballet, and in Maurice Bejart's original
"Rite of Spring" in Brussels.
Go back to Flash Reviews