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Swan Lake – Darling Harbour Theatre, ICC (NSW)

Performed by The United Ukrainian Ballet

Reviewed by Juliana Payne

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Photos by Ben Vella

In 1976 my mum took me to see the Bolshoi Ballet when they came to Australia. Being eleven, and being in little ol’ Perth, this was a thunderously momentous occasion. I sat there agog, mesmerised by those graceful beings on the far away stage, wanting to dance up there with them, like them. This long forgotten memory struck me like lightning as I saw similar pairs of mothers and daughters piling in to see Swan Lake, some of the little girls themselves in white tutus and ballet slippers. I could see them with shining eyes saving up priceless memories of the three hours of power ballet we enjoyed.

Swan Lake – the story, the music – is just so familiar to us all (the motif has been used to sell deodorant, for crying out loud!). The image of a flock of ballerinas in white tutus is probably what springs to most people’s minds when they hear the word ballet, and boy did we get plenty of gorgeous ballet dancers and danseurs giving their all up there.

This production was firmly in the traditional convention, and it was comforting to just sit and enjoy their graceful virtuosity. Plot-wise Swan Lake is no complicated Scandi-noir mystery – boy meets swan, boy mixes up swan for another one, boy loses swan – so the audience can focus on the technical skills, stamina and breath-taking beauty of the company. With traditional ballet, you have to willingly suspend your feminist beliefs, and, hey, for this production I was happy to do so.

Kateryna Chebykina’s (Odette) sylph-like delicacy and grace belied the highly trained condition of her muscle and sinew; her performance was far and away the highlight of the night. She executed the difficult task of portraying the opposite characters of Odette and Odile effortlessly, from shy reticence to provocative temptation, freaking out poor old Prince Siegfried (Oleksii Kniazkov). I always think Siegfried gets a raw deal, as his character gets stuck with the most conventional choreography, even though he executes it perfectly.

The danseurs’ perfectly defined and toned musculature was like an anatomy lesson – they were nearly as ripped as President Zelenskyy in a khaki tshirt.

The bad boy appeal is in full force in Swan Lake, as the evil Rothbart (Oleksiy Grishin) has a far more interesting and complex routine that he delivers with incredible precision and energy, with fantastic costumes to boot. His black and red cape billows out against the white tutus, and the imagery leaves Darth Vader for dead. The audience choice award, however, went to Pavlo Zurnadzhi as the Jester, who got the Shane Warne-style cheering at the curtain call. He seemed to fly across the stage, suspended in the air, and his technical skills were outstanding. His cheeky grin and agility were a joy to watch.

The United Ukrainian Ballet company formed less than six months ago, so it’s younger than the war they’ve seen decimate their homeland. While some of the larger set pieces may not be quite as polished as more established company, these young dancers are touring under great emotional and physical pressures. The audience was generous and welcoming, and you couldn’t begrudge the odd slip of a foot or mistiming.

The sets and lighting were standard flats and ballet-type backdrops of castles and dark forests, and it doesn’t really matter anyway. We were there for the bodies. The danseurs’ perfectly defined and toned musculature was like an anatomy lesson – they were nearly as ripped as President Zelenskyy in a khaki tshirt.

The creative team behind this production of Swan Lake have unabashedly used this opportunity to turn the tradition on its head, and have crafted a story of hope and redemption out of tragedy. And why not? Dictators like Stalin and Mao have understood the power of art and used it, so why shouldn’t we use its powers for good for a change?

At the final curtain, the audience was on its feet, applauding, whistling and cheering as if they’d just seen the Aussies win back the Ashes. Ballet produces fitter, better disciplined and better looking athletes to my mind. Plus, you get the graceful moves and uplifting music thrown in, what’s not to like?


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SYDNEY– DARLING HARBOUR THEATRE, ICC Dates: Friday 28 October to Saturday 5 November Showtimes: Friday 7.30pm; Saturday 2pm & 7.30pm; Sunday 1pm & 6pm Tickets: $79 to $199 Bookings: Ticketek

ADELAIDE – ADELAIDE FESTIVAL THEATRE Dates: Wednesday 9 November to Sunday 13 November Tickets: $79 to $199 Showtimes: Wed 7.30pm; Thurs 7.30pm; Friday 7.30pm; Sat 2pm & 7.30pm; Sunday 1pm & 6pm Bookings: Ticketek

Website: YouTube: Instagram: SwanLakeAU

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