The Australian Ballet: Swan Lake -
Sydney Opera House, 1 April -
The title “ballerina” is bandied about so often it’s become the de facto description for any female ballet dancer. A true ballerina, though, is not only an artist talented enough to be dancing with a professional company.
She is a dancer who entrances, a superb actor with powerful technique, able to express both fragility and strength, with her performance remaining in the minds of the audience long after they’ve left the theatre.
Amber Scott dancing the dual role of Odette/Odile in Stephen Baynes’s Swan Lake, is that ballerina.
Her performance now is even stronger than it was when the Australian Ballet production premiered in 2012. Supported by her longtime dance partner, Adam Bull as Prince Siegfried, she appeared to breathe through the choreography, floating into her attitudes and arabesques as the vulnerable Odette. As Odile, she was fierce, confidently launching into the intricacies of her solo and final fouettes with panache.
Scott and Bull are physically compatible – she, on pointe, the right height to rest her head on his shoulder, but they’re also emotionally compatible. Both owned their characters with the confidence that comes from maturity and experience.
In this Swan Lake, the principal artists have the security of portraying their characters within a strong narrative framework created by Baynes and the designer, Hugh Colman.
The narrative arc begins as it ends with the malicious von Rothbart on the lake, commandeering a swan-like boat containing a dead body.
In a prelude, Prince Siegfried, as a child, watches his mother’s grief as his father rests on the boat, representing a funeral barge. In Act I, as a young man, Siegfried is adrift in a Prussian court controlled by an imperious Lord Chancellor. There, everything is militaristic. Salutes and uniforms dominate. Iron eagles are the ornamentation on the palace gates.
Surrounding Siegfried at his birthday celebrations are his friends, Benno, a duchess, a countess and a devoted nurse from his childhood days. The segue into the second act is Siegfried’s slow and measured solo. Bull’s interpretation of the adage was faultless.
In the 2012 production von Rothbart was absent in a human form in Act II, with his power and control of the lake signified by a thunderous sky and a projection of an ominous flying swan. In the revival Rothbart does make a brief appearance swathed in a cape. The projection is still there, more subtle than before, but I’m not convinced it is compatible with the overall romantic concept of this Swan Lake.
Von Rothbart’s human arrival is a stunning introduction to Act III, transforming the rigidity of the grey-walled ballroom into a riotous party. As the upstage curtain opens, we see a baroque backdrop with golden chandeliers and winged sphinxes. With the red haired Rothbart, violin in hand, is his retinue of Spanish and Russian dancers. A quartet of vigorous Cossacks accompanies a Russian princess and the colour palate in the room changes from pallid to vivid turquoise, gold, orange and red. The gloomy Queen, born in Russia, is transformed, seduced by the beguiling Rothbart playing Russian music on his violin.
The narrative ends as it begins but this time Rothbart recovers Siegfried’s body from the lake. Odette’s presence hovers over them in the shape of a cloud resembling a swan. Unlike many Swan Lakes, Baynes and Colman have created a story with believable characters. The stock Swan Lake characters we’ve seen so many times, such as the Jester, the Tutor (usually tipsy) and the pantomime version of Rothbart dressed as an owl and lurking in the shadows are, thankfully, absent.
Senior artists and soloists of the company stood out in the first cast, among them Miwako Kubota as the charming Countess, Benedicte Bemet, as the Duchess, Rudy Hawkes as Benno, Amy Harris and Dimity Azoury as the Lead Swans, and Brett Simon, making the most of Rothbart’s mischief and deceit.
Guest artist Gillian Revie clearly and subtly expressed the Queen’s initial sadness, her anxiety, then her excitement and ultimate despair.
Guest conductor, Andrew Mogrelia, led the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra and his vast experience in conducting ballets was evident.
- Valerie Lawson
Top photo: Adam Bull and Amber Scott. Photo: Daniel Boud.
Bottom photos: click on thumbnails for captions and credits.
Swan Lake plays in Sydney until 20 April, Adelaide 26-31 May and Melbourne 7-18 June.