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Swan Lake review at Coliseum, London – ‘buoyant classicism’

Adam Bull and Amber Scott in Swan Lake at London Coliseum. Photo: Jeff Busby
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Tchaikovsky must be getting dizzy by now. Of all the big classical ballets Swan Lake is the one that has been revised, remodelled, sexed up, dumbed down and generally interfered with more than most. Graeme Murphy’s 2002 version takes enormous liberties with the narrative and the score while maintaining a buoyant classicism.

Taking its cue from the ‘three-way’ marriage involving Prince Charles, Diana and Camilla, the work offers nudging allusions more than bold comparisons which saves it from becoming too anchored to the analogy. On his wedding night, Prince Siegfried (Adam Bull) sleeps with Baroness von Rothbart (Dimity Azoury) setting in motion a chain of events that will drive his fragile fiancee Odette (Amber Scott) to madness.

There is an Edwardian elegance in the costumes of cream and dove grey and an airy lightness in the dancing, characterised by an easy elasticity and swing in the ensemble. As things turn nasty and Odette is rejected in favour of the Baroness in a relentless and desperate pas de trois full of clutching hands and yearning arms, gestures become sharper, more staccato. Having made a spectacle of herself at the court Odette is banged up in an asylum where she fantasises about a swan-filled lake. So it goes.

There is much to enjoy here, especially the second act which is played more or less straight with a huge tilted lake and an impressive complement of swans in soft French tutus. The wafting arms and silky precision of the corps de ballet is one of work’s significant features, along with the principals who colour their technique with expressive character. If the narrative sometimes loses its way the calibre of the dancing and the choreographic invention – including a terrific horizontal lift and a ball scene that fuses ballet, waltz and tango – keeps everything alert.

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Classical revisionism and a philandering prince put a contemporary spin on this hardy perennial