The 19th century classic, perhaps the most adored ballet of all time, is the love story of Princess Odette who falls under the spell of the evil Von Rothbart, and her lover Prince Siegfried who is tricked into mistaking Odette for Odile (the black swan). There are various endings danced all around the world from the lovers jumping off cliffs or into lakes to Odette being a swan forever, to Siegfried dying of a broken heart. For this production however, the CTCB has chosen the happiest of endings in which Siegfried fights and kills Von Rothbart and Odette is returned to human form.
The grandeur of the scenes along with every accessory and trim on the elaborate costumes truly allows the audience to lose itself into the story. Add to this the live accompaniment of the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, artfully conducted by Graham Scott, and the splendour of Tchaikovsky’s score fills the hearts and minds of everyone present.
But it is the CTCB principals in the lead roles, Laura Bösenberg and Thomas Thorne, who really communicate the emotions and bring meaning to this ballet production. Their well-established partnership allows for a natural flow through their movements, making even the transitions between the tricky pirouettes and penchés a pleasure to watch.
Dancing both swans – Odette and Odile – is both a technical and demanding feat for any ballerina. Not only must the detail of every step be fine-tuned, but she also has to convincingly portray the emotions of two diverse characters. Bösenberg’s sensitivity and vulnerability as Odette exudes from the arch of her swanlike neck to the flutterings of her raised foot against her ankle (petits battements serrés) at the end of her great adagio with Thorne, while as Odile there is a flash in her eyes which drives the drama and reveals glimpses of the cunning vixen within.
Thomas Thorne, as always, is consistently impressive. As Prince Siegfried his glorious leaps and double air turns land without the faintest of sound. Despite his strapping princeliness, he brings a softness which perfectly juxtaposes Bösenberg’s sharpness as Odile.
Not enough credit is given to male dancers for their partnering, and the men of the Cape Town City Ballet are flawless, often outshining the girls with their strength and power as they place their partners perfectly en pointe from every lift or turn. Jesse Milligan particularly caught my attention with his engaging presence and energy on stage.
Not everything was immaculate on opening night – there were a few wobbles in the Pas de Trois in Act I and the tension transferred itself to the audience in a few of the tricky pirouette variations and hops en pointe. But the female dancers came into their own for the magnificent Dance of the Swans in Act II.
Given the stamina required for the lead roles, the protagonists are played by a variety of dancers over the run of the production, with Bösenberg and Thorne dancing for three shows. Kirstel Jensen and Mami Fujii are set to dance Odette and Odile for two nights, with Jesse Milligan as Prince Siegfried, as are Angela Hansford and Kim Vieira with Daniel Szybkowski.
As a final treat, husband and wife couple Hikaru Kobayashi and Federico Bonelli of London’s Royal Ballet will take the leads in the final two performances.
Swan Lake runs at Artscape Opera House from 5 – 20 April 2014.