Film/Ballet Review: Swan Lake

The Paris Opera Ballet presents a staged filming of one of the the most classic and loved ballets of all times, about a woman cursed to turn into a swan.

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Swan Lake is perhaps the most iconic classical ballets in the repertoire (and also my favourite) so I went with high expectations. Thankfully my expectations were more than met. This ballet, unlike a production mounted throughout Australia last year, retains all the classical elements while managing to add an exciting new take.

The ballet begins with a ball to enable Prince Seigried to choose a bride. None of the candidates impress him until Von Rothbart arrives with Odette, a beautiful woman by day and a swan by night.

She reveals that she is under a spell by the evil Von Rothbart, and can only be saved by a prince who swears eternal love. Siegfriend falls rapidly in love, inviting her that night to a ball at his castle where he will marry her and reverse the spell.

Tragically, the evil sorcerer disguises his daughter as Odette at the ball, causing Siegfried to propose to the wrong woman. He races back to the lake to confess his mistake, but Odette cannot accept his proposal. Denied his true love, Seigried dies alone while Von Rothbart and Odette take flight.

This rethink of Swan Lake is Rudolf Nureyev’s “Freudian” version, conceived for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1984 in which Prince Siegfried’s role is elevated to that of the hero.

The ballet is a marathon for the three Principal dancers, Amandine Albisson (Odette/Odile), Mathieu Ganio (Prince Siegfried), François Alu (Rothbart).

Albisson as Odette/Odile is a flawless technician, who manages to create two entirely different characters, the frail fluid swan and the fiery, high-spirited Odile. Every audience member waits for the famous 32 fouettes in Act 3. Occasionally ballerinas tend to drift during this highly technical feat, not Albisson who remained rock steady. In fact, the whole pas de deux from this act was flawless.

Mathieu Ganio, while being an excellent actor and having the most time on stage (an incredibly draining role), did not always have the elevation I would expect from this role. However, his Prince Siegfried was heroic and tragic and his pas de deux work was excellent, a solid support for Albisson.

One of the highlights of the ballet was Francois Alu as Rothbart. Thanks to Nureyev’s new conception Alu played Prince Siegfried’s tutor and Von Rothbart giving immense scope to his acting and dancing talents. There were several emotional pas de deux with Siegfried and his solo in Act 3 was memorable. Having played the prince previously, he obviously knew and understood the complexities of the ballet.

The other heroes of the Swan Lake are the corps de ballet. Their dancing is perfectly synchronised and executed. The white act (Act 2) was a triumph. This act relies on precision and perfect placement on stage. The 32 swans danced as one. The Pas de Quatre or Dance or the Little Swans was the best I’ve seen.

Add to the above, sumptuous costumes, simple but striking scenery and a lush orchestra and you have a near perfect production.

I still have wonderful memories of the Australian ballet production of 1977 but this one equals and, in a lot of ways, eclipses that!

Reviewed by Barry Hill
Twitter: @kinesguy

Rating out of 10:  10

Swan Lake screened as part of the Palace Opera & Ballet cinema season, presenting The Royal Opera House, La Scala and Opéra national de Paris – exclusive to the Palace Nova Eastend cinemas.

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