If You Go Down To The Lake Today...
YOU'RE IN FOR A BIG SURPRISE
Last night I attended the premiere of David Dawson's Swan Lake, performed by Scottish Ballet.
Re-imagining Swan Lake for any choreographer is a bold undertaking. You are basically remaking the most popular, well-loved ballet of all time. The room for error for that reason alone, is substantial. Since I'm one of those people for whom Swan Lake has a special place in my heart, going to see a version where it's entirely possible the heart and soul could be ripped from it, I was nervous to say the least.
I am less than fond of Matthew Bourne's version and went into the Theatre not knowing anything about David Dawson and how he planned to approach it. I had seen a few moments of rehearsals, so knew the kind of movement to expect, but no concept of how that would look in it's wider context.
I need to not have worried. It was incredible.
LET IT GO
Before you enter that theatre, you need to try and let go of everything you think about Swan Lake. That Swan Lake, for this moment in time, is gone.
In the original Swan Lake Odette and the Prince fall in love and will get married which will break the evil spell that has turned Odette and the other girls into swans in the first place. But then Odile swans into town and he falls in love with her and agrees to marry her. Oopsie. He then realises he's committed the fauxest of all pas and has a face palm moment of epic proportions. Naturally, Odette is in utter despair, realising the magnitude of the situation and that's when we see all those dramatic, heart-wrenching movements - the flailing wings, the pushing and pulling as he begs her forgiveness. It's truly a gut-wrenching scene. Odette is a victim here and her despair is palpable, and even when she forgives her Prince it's not a happy ending as they will now both die. That's some heavy shit. However David Dawson's Odette is not really a victim in that same despairing way. She is more like, "OMG ARE YOU SERIOUS RIGHT NOW! DUDE! YOU HAD ONE THING TO DO!"
She's pissed and pretty much wants to punch him in the face.
These scenes are still dramatic but in a very different way to the original Swan Lake. There is a fluidity to the movement that never breaks pace throughout the whole ballet. In the original we do see little breaks in pace for those iconic moments: Cygnets, the 32 fouettes, the Dying Swan. That's all gone. The audience anticipates those famous moments, so you really have to let go of those preconceived notions when you see this version because they haven't been replaced by an equivalent. That was perhaps the hardest thing to do, to not heighten your excitement when you hear the music for cygnets, for example.
Odette and Odile was played to utter, breathtaking perfection by Sophie Martin. The main discussion that took place after the show revolved mostly around, "Is Sophie Martin even human?"
Her Odette was no victim and her Odile was seriously sassy. When she enters the party she comes with a wrecking crew of 4 masked men and literally dances the pants off Prince Siegfried. Afterwards she goes back to her crew who are all, "Girlfiend!!! and snaps all round. That dude has been SERVED.
The other thing you have to let go of is the function of the corps de ballet in this version. In original Swan Lake, the corps constantly create visual metaphors and literally frame the whole ballet. Their perfect unison is visually awe-inspiring but in Dawson's Swan Lake, the corps are less about providing a frame or a backdrop and are far more integrated. Does this lessen the impact of some of the scenes where the corps are key, such as when the Swans are furiously swarming around the Prince? Honestly, yes. I felt those scenes didn't translate quite so well. I didn't feel the drama quite as much.
Overall however, I went in with a view that you couldn't better the traditional Swan Lake and nothing could be as good. I was wrong. This is different, and it bears little resemblance to the original, but it is no less wonderful.
Sophie Martin is one of the most perfect dancers I have ever seen, she mesmerizes every single audience member and there was a not single would-be dancer in that theatre last night who did not want to be exactly like her.
Constance Devernay, who will also be performing as Odette and Odile, positively lit up the stage as a Swan, and I'm not just biased because she's my friend. Her timing was astoundingly accurate and her strength hugely impressive. All the SB dancers bring an energy to the stage I honestly haven't seen anywhere else. When they smile, you smile.
If you get a chance to see this, I urge you to do so. It is one of the most exciting new ballets you will see for a long time.