Swan Lake – Review – Leeds Grand

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Swan Lake – Review

Leeds Grand, March 2016

by Sandra Callard

There is no definitive Swan Lake ballet. Adapted continually over the years since the majestic Tchaikovsky penned his sublime score for the ballet, we now have David Nixon OBE, celebrated director and choreographer, bringing a new twist to the old story. Performed by the elite Northern Ballet at the Grand Theatre in Leeds, Nixon’s version is set in the last days of the beautiful Belle Epoque era of 1912.

Swan Lake Leeds Grand TheatreWe have no royal prince here, but instead we have Anthony, an upper-crust youth with time and money on his hands, whiling away the summer with his friends near the lake in which his younger brother drowned. Drawn irresistibly to the water through grief and guilt, he is captivated by a swan-like creature, Odette, who rises from the lake. She dances with him and gives him the feeling of peace and love he has searched for. Anthony and Odette are danced by the accomplished Tobias Batley and Martha Leebolt, and they move together like a dream.

Nixon here brings a modern factor into the story, which would have probably been controversial in the early years of the ballet, but which is almost old-hat now, as Anthony struggles with his sexuality. Still yearning to see Odette again, he neverthless finds himself attracted to one of his male friends, Simon, immaculately danced by Nicola Gervasi.

swan lake male northern ballet troupeOn almost surrendering to this impulse, he decides to marry an old friend, Odilia, who is in love with him, danced with heartbreaking pathos by Ayami Miyata, in an attempt to carve out a normal life for himself. The marriage, of course, fails and he returns to the lake in search of Odette.

“Resounding success”

The set is fairly sparse. Only the reeds on the edge of the lake are apparent. But the glorious music and dance fill the stage with no need for elaborate sets.

The male costumes are superb, with straw boaters, flannels and waistcoats. The dresses are sumptious, colourful and exotic, depicting vividly the pre-WW1 era of wealthy indolence and luxury. Disappointingly, the swan costumes are fairly dull and traditional. They come with the standard white-feathered headbands. Only Odette has a feathered, but rather underwhelming, costume.

swan lake ballet in leedsThe corps de ballet of fourteen little swans seemed to rather overfill the stage. But the famously lovely ‘Dance of the Little Swans’ where four cygnets dance in unison with crossed hands, was a resounding success. An appreciative audience responded accordingly.

The plot of Swan Lake is relatively simple. It is easy to follow without words, as ballet should be. Although I did lose it slightly, albeit with my full attention. I feel somewhat abashed to admit that I did not exactly know what had happened to Anthony at the end. I know now because I have read the programme. But it should have been more apparent. This new production of probably the best-loved ballet ever, was danced with beauty, grace and commitment. However, it lacked the fire and emotion that have literally made me weep with sadness and joy at other productions.

Photos: Emma Kauldhar

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