April 2016, Scottish Ballet, Theatre Royal Glasgow
Going to see the iconic Tchaikovsky ballet Swan Lake is undoubtedly a magical experience. The incredibly sumptuous costumes, the grand and emotive score, the entrancing fairy tale of a woman nightmarishly trapped within a spellbinding world. But Scottish Ballet’s recent production audaciously turned these assumptions upside down: stripping down the majestic aesthetic, removing the intricate tutus (gasp!) and even certain fabled aspects of the story, including, of course, the monstrous figure of von Rothbart, minimalism was the by-word for Christopher Hampson’s new adaptation.
Choreographed by David Dawson, the production shocks with its almost conceptual set design, pared-down costumes and startling colour blocs. Long gone is the lavish spectacle favoured by companies such as the Royal Ballet; remnants of the royal court linger and audience members familiar with the enduring classic will still be able to identify certain key components of the story. A story as old as Swan Lake will always require reinvigoration to ensure that the story remains fresh, and this production certainly accomplishes that. But does it work? Arguably, no. The choreography is exciting and new, and the novel interpretation challenges my own preconceptions of ballet in a way that Hampson himself desires: do I perhaps focus too much on frills rather than essential footwork? It puts ballet back in the spotlight in a manner that can only be beneficial, yet the removal of the royal background and von Rothbart (in other words, the main impetus driving the story) hampers the progression of the famously mesmerising tale.
Without the dashing villain, Odette’s imprisonment cannot be explained and Odile’s appearance quite frankly makes no sense. The entire production suffers without a plot with which to securely root the characters’ motives and movements and although this might appear less important in ballet, without a cohesive progression, the production risks being more a series of daring choreography. Additionally, the rich, magnificent score seems incongruous when faced with such quiet minimalism. Innovative interpretations are always welcome, but not at the expense of the enchanting essence of Swan Lake.