Review: Swan Lake

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Swan LakeSwan Lake is one of the most revered and notorious ballets ever created, celebrated not only for the ballet itself, but for Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece score with which it is synonymous. It is therefore a treat to see Cape Town City Ballet’s production of this timeless classic, under the direction of Elizabeth Triegaardt, performed to live accompaniment by the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra lead by Brandon Phillips. The music captivates the audience’s attention and draws them into the magical story the dancers unfold before them.

Act 1 is set in an outdoor courtyard during a celebration of Prince Siegfried’s coming of age. Siegfried – played by Thomas Thorne – is entertained by the dancing of Craig Pedro as his Court Jester, who has a vivacious energy and bounces across the stage while causing mischief. Also in attendance are villagers and courtiers who fill the stage with their weaving patterns and shapes, creating a constantly changing spectacle for the eye to follow. The pas de trois performed by Caitlin Smith, Rosamund Ford and Martin Milner maintain this interweaving theme and is performed with great timing by the dancers. Although occasionally, the arms lack accuracy, and Smith and Ford don’t seem to be held on their legs during the supported turns.

In contrast, the partner work between Thorne and Laura Bosenberg as Odette (the white swan) is faultless. After years of working together, Thorne and Bosenberg are completely in tune with each other, making every pas de deux very secure and safe. Individually, Thorne is technically sound, delighting the audience with the satisfaction of seeing a double tour en l’air landed in a clean fifth position and darting jeté en menage. Bosenberg is demure and elegant as Odette with delicate, swan-like port de bras and clean lines that perfectly epitomise the physicality of this enchanted character.

The entirety of both lake scenes in which Bosenberg appears are stunning, aided by the aesthetic purity of 24 dancers in white romantic tutus floating across the stage like smoke. The corps de ballet does a wonderful job of moving in and out of their various formations seamlessly, mesmerising the audience with their fluid movement and capturing them under their spell. It is only when standing still that the stylised body postures and head angles need a bit more clarity. One of the most recognised variations from this scene is the dance of the cygnets and Cleo Ames, Meghan Henegan, Elizabeth Nienaber and Jessica Brown perform it with the timing of their feet and heads beautifully in sync.

Although the lake scenes are debatably the essence of Swan Lake, you can’t think of Swan Lake without thinking of the black swan, Odile. Her appearance in Act 3 is brief but effecting, with the scene opening on a grandiose palace set with various national dances performed in honour of Prince Siegfried, each with a unique flavour, musical style and energy. Of these, the Neopolitan dance stands out due to the animated and dynamic performances from both Elizabeth Nienaber and Revil Yon, a truly charismatic partnership. Then comes the pas de deux everyone has been anticipating with the explosive and fiery Mariette Opperman as Odile, enticing the Prince into making a proposal. With her coy looks, alluring epaulement and evasive wrist flicks, Opperman has both the prince and the audience captivated. In the partner work she is able to show off her impressive extensions and lines and, despite a small wobble in her solo and not completing the iconic 32 fouettés on opening night, she maintains her poise and enigmatic air throughout, giving a exciting performance.

This version of Swan Lake, based on that of Vladimir Bourmeister, challenges the technique and athleticism of the dancers of the CTCB, regaling the audience with a continuous array of turns, jumps and lifts. But beyond that, the combination of the music, costumes, set and unique stylisation of the swans transports the audience through this magical story.

Shirley-Anne Bezuidenhout

Swan Lake is performed by the Cape Town City Ballet at the Artscape until 18 June 2017. 

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