Review: Peter Schaufuss Ballet - Tchaikovsky Trilogy – Swan Lake
Performance reviewed: 23 July
The concept of turning the three Tchaikovsky ballets (Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker) into a triptych of one inter-related series of events, sown together by a magical Dream Maker, has an innovative spark of potential promise. At least, one hopes, here is a different take on these tired, well-worn fairy tales. But the gulf between this good idea and the successful delivery of this first part of the trilogy turns out to be as huge as the Grand Canyon.
Presenting these performances in ‘Olympic Opening Week’ (as declared on the cover of the programme) is perhaps a timely reminder that not every Olympian is a Bradley Wiggins; there has to be room for the odd Eddie the Eagle. The hard-working ensemble tried its best but the performance started flat and – although the second act is certainly better than the first – that spark of innovation was extinguished long before the end. If truth be told the pilot light probably died within the first couple of minutes. Perhaps the best thing one can say about this Swan Lake is that the heavy truncation of the narrative made it mercifully brief.
Anything billed as the “Tchaikovsky Trilogy” and performed at the London Coliseum has to be a let down from the very first bar when the sound mixes a CD playing loudly with very squeaky feet. The costumes were just as dreadful. The fifteen androgynous swans looked like bald, plucked chickens retaining just a breastplate of feathers; the female members of the court in Act 1 seemed like downmarket showgirls in the nude revue bar of a backwoods market town, their costumes somehow managing to be both salacious and drab at the same time. Worst of all was the short, wide-lapelled, white ‘woollen’ bomber jacket worn by Alban Lendorf as ‘The Boy Siegfried’. He spent most of the evening running around with a pained expression, flinging his arms wide as if he were about to start belting out a show ballad; an image made more resonant by virtue of his striking likeness to the character of Kurt Hummel in Glee. Lendorf is an excellent dancer but it was impossible to tell from this material.
The white swan pas de deux was danced – for the most part – horizontally on the floor as if this was a synchronised swimming duet being practiced on dry land (an arabesque on one knee was a highlight). It made sense only if watched through the slanted mirrors above the stage. The choreography for the four cygnets looked as if it had been made up quickly as a “truth or dare” forfeit at a hen party (and the four dancers did a decent impression of having just been plucked from said event). The swan- hen “do” was to turn pornographic with Odile’s party trick in the black swan pas de deux. In a conventional Swan Lake, Odile convinces Siegfried that she is, in fact, his true love, Odette, with a variety of seductive techniques. This one just falls to her knees for a perfunctory blow job, quickly wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, when the work is done. Kenneth MacMillan had already choreographed oral sex so much more artfully and with purpose in Manon. I’m tempted to say that this was just so much more in your face but I hope you know what I mean.
Many people will have bought tickets on the strength of the star billing for the great Irek Mukhamedov but his role as Rothbart was minimal; reduced to giving a couple of piggy-back rides in Act 1 and a long, motionless clinch that concluded his seduction of the Queen (alongside his daughter’s seduction of Siegfried). To be fair this was the most memorable sequence of the ballet coming after four anachronistic princess solos in the second act.
This first part of the trilogy had the prophetic sub-title of being ‘A Nightmare’. It was not so much a Swan Lake as a puddle full of turkeys, already half-plucked for Christmas. Whenever I see work as poor as this I feel the saving grace is that it has given dancers some gainful employment and they can at least take the money and run. The audience should just run.
Continues at the London Coliseum until Saturday 28 July – with Sleeping Beauty (Thu), The Nutcracker (Wed & Fri) – and the chance to see all three ballets on Saturday.
Graham Watts writes for many publications including DanceTabs and Dancing Times. He is Chair of the Critics’ Circle Dance Section.
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