Swan Lake is still the ultimate ballet experience

The Australian Ballet’s reimagined Swan Lake is a triumph for the national company as new artistic director David Hallberg returns to Brisbane, writes Phil Brown

Oct 25, 2023, updated Oct 25, 2023
Image: Kate Longley

Image: Kate Longley

The last time The Australian Ballet’s artistic director David Hallberg was on stage in Brisbane he was dancing. He reminded us of that in a warm and charming personal introduction given to the assembled throng on opening night of Swan Lake in the Lyric Theatre at QPAC.

Hallberg reminded us of that and of the fact that the company had not performed at QPAC since 2019, due to the pandemic. (“You may have heard of it?” he quipped).

Not seeing the company here for a few years is much lamented amongst Queensland ballet fans. One wanted to shout … “Don’t be a stranger!” … but one held back. The fact is that for some years we saw the company each and every year but the scheduling of cash cow musicals and other matters have interrupted what was once a tradition.

We hope that tradition can continue with at least semi-regular visits.

Of course, in the meantime, we have our own glorious Queensland Ballet and we love them dearly.

But The Australian Ballet is our national and international company and in this production of Swan Lake they show that they deserve to be.

What can I say about it? Well, for a start that it is flawless, ballet perfection, the pinnacle of the art form. Swan Lake is everyone’s favourite ballet for a reason. It is dramatic, theatrical, you can follow it reasonably well (some ballet and opera storylines get a bit confusing) and then there is the music of Tchaikovsky which is beyond words.

Think of the poem Endymion by the English poet John Keats in which he declares that “a thing of beauty is a joy forever”. So, it is with Swan Lake and the music of Tchaikovsky, which is positively transcendent. Plaudits to the Queensland Symphony Orchestra which just gets better and better and on opening night, with conductor Barry Wordsworth wielding the baton (he has a suitably poetic surname and an incredible pedigree), they were other-worldly good.

This is very much a David Hallberg ballet and he worked with choreographer Lucas Jervies to reimagine Swan Lake inspired by Anne Wooliams’ 1977 production. Hallberg brings grace and beauty in spades to this version and it seems more romantic, more tragic, more everything in fact. There is a narrative clarity that is quite attractive to occasionally confused punters like me.

Oh yes, and then there is the dancing. Exquisite is one word I could use but you would run out of adjectives pretty quickly trying to describe how wonderful it was – at times jolly and entertaining, even funny with Marcus Morelli a standout as the court jester. And it is lovely to see local legend Paul Boyd in a character role as the chamberlain.

Mackay-born Queenslander Benedicte Bemet is Odette/Odile and British dancer Joseph Caley is Siegfried, her leading man. These two are nothing short of spectacular. Bemet is grace and beauty personified and her performance was breathtaking while Caley was in her shadow somewhat for the first couple of acts but later in the piece he comes into his own. His skill and athleticism is a perfect match for Bemet who is technically perfect and artistically en pointe.

Benedicte Bemet, who is now a principal artist with the company, is, I would venture to say, Australia’s latest greatest ballerina. There are several casts so you may not see her dance but if you get the chance to see her – even if you have to fly interstate – do so.

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Her poise, her skill is amazing. She nails the famous 32 fouettés of Swan Lake perfectly and that’s no mean feat.

In case you’ve forgotten the story, like me (I had to read the program in the intervals to remind myself) Swan Lake tells of Prince Siegfried’s love for Odette, a mysterious princess who has been trapped in the form of a swan by the evil Rothbart, played with gravitas and flair by Jarryd Madden. Rothbart tends to rule the day by eventually entrapping the prince into falling in love with his daughter Odile (the black swan, also Bemet).

In the end Siegfried manages to destroy Rothbart and break his spell but he becomes a victim of the lake himself in the process so there is no happily ever after for him although in the final scene peace does, once again, descend upon Swan Lake.

First performed at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1877 it’s the most famous of all ballets and one of the most technically challenging. When it all comes together it is an almost spiritual experience over two hours and 45 minutes with two intervals. The sets, the costumes, the music, the dancing … this one has it all and this production is pitch perfect.

And all the dancers are wonderful but it’s Benedicte Bemet who flies highest.

The Australian Ballet’s Swan Lake is on in the Lyric Theatre at QPAC until Saturday, October 28.

This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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