Review by Cynthia Ning
The United Ukrainian Ballet graces the Darling Harbour Theatre, ICC Sydney with the beloved classic tale, Swan Lake (reimagined by Elena Glurjidze assisted by Sara Knight).
Upon arriving at the theatre, excitement was buzzing all around. From ballet enthusiasts to families with their little ones dressed in their tutus, it was an event for all. We were ushered into our seats and the lights dimmed as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s musical masterpiece began to fill the room.
The curtains swayed open to reveal a beautiful watercolour backdrop of a distant castle and greenery with the introduction of its regal characters. The scene is reminiscent of classic fairy-tale books with the corps de ballet coming to life from renaissance portraits which allow for creative imagination for a younger audience to visualise the world of Swan Lake.
Prince Siegfried (Oleksii Kniazkov) is welcomed by his beloved nobles of the Kingdom. His gestures are gentle and assured as the warm stage lights radiates him in manmade sunshine. The costumes (designed by Galina Solovyeva) are lovely and complementary to the storytelling with soft pastels and detailed gold embroidery elevating the movements of each ballet dancer. The multipurpose props such as the goblets and roses used in the coupled dances were effective in displaying romantic gestures and decorating the stage.
The fantastic jester (performed by Pavlo Zurnadzhi) displays dizzying pirouettes that hypnotise us under the spell of the castle and the land. He is a crowd favourite and acts as the prince’s friend and voice of reason. Even falling in love with one of the ladies in waiting for himself! Igone De Jongh’s Artistic direction is playful and delicate with a touch of comedy and light-hearted teasing of the King, allowing the audience to laugh and relax into the story.
There is genuine excitement and joy of all the dancers seen on their faces with great chemistry between their respective dance partners. There was the occasional slip followed by a quick recovery which reminded me of how much effort and focus goes into this highly physically demanding performance on pointe.
The young company had only been together for a mere 6 months before debuting internationally and they bring a vibrant energy. There is the comradery and passionate commitment to storytelling for their audience and despite facing atrocious adversity there is still hope, magic and love from across the world.
Oleksiy Grishun who plays the villain Rothbart shows tremendous energy in his performance. The dark colours and feathered wings starkly contrasted him with the Swans and the Swan Princess Odette (Kateryna Chebykina) who makes her stunning appearance before our eyes amidst the smoke screen and moonlight.
There is an instant connection between Prince Siegfried and Odette upon their first encounter and dance. Kateryna Chebykina effortlessly floats across the stage as Oleksii Kniazkov accompanies showing strength and love as he helps her fly. There is a moment of freedom until Rothbart pulls Odette back into the darkness and she sadly departs from Prince Siegfried’s embrace.
In Act II the Royal Palace Grand Ball is revealed with deep red and rich golden tapestry complimented by the equally extravagant costume changes. The pace starts to pick up with lively choreography of ballet infused with Mazurka, Spanish, Hungarian and Neapolitan dance – Which was a treat to see. Odile makes her magnificent entry following Rothbart and performs a confident soloist routine with a mind-boggling 20 pirouettes to woo Prince Siegfried who receives the approval from his mother the Queen to take her hand in marriage. Memories of Odette reappear, and he remembers his love for her and the energy builds up to the crescendo leading to the ultimate battle between Prince Siegfried and Rothbart.
Their clash comes after a desperate search for Odette who has seemed to have lost hope in ever seeing her love Prince Siegfried again. The swans do a beautiful job of protecting her from the darkness in synchronicity before finally making a path for the two to be together. In a climactic finale, Prince Siegfried and Rothbart leap into battle as Odette watches praying for her release. The prince succeeds and we see one of Rothbart’s feather arms come apart and he finally concedes defeat.
A wonderous family-friendly event and gentle introduction to ballet shows, do not miss this opportunity to be whisked away to Swan Lake.
Congratulations to the United Ukrainian Ballet for putting together this truly splendid production and bringing us together with dance.
Swan Lake is now showing at Darling Harbour Theatre, ICC Sydney from 28th October – 5th November and at Adelaide Festival Theatre, Adelaide from 9th November – 13th November