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Swan Lake at Leeds Grand Theatre

16 March 2016
Swan Lake at Leeds Grand Theatre
Perhaps the most iconic ballet of all time, most culture-goers and laymen alike have at least encountered the rough storyline, or notion of the ballet at some point in their lives. The iconic Act 1 finale song was even a souped Samsung ringtone option at one time, so not only do ballet companies need to do it well when they take on the task, but ideally, they need to bring something new. Northern Ballet’s version certainly achieved both…

I’m always humbled by the thought of having access to such a talented and innovative institution as Northern Ballet. Having only just dipped my (very naughty, un-pointed) toe into the world of ballet following a stint at age 4 (which swiftly ended after a bout of chicken pox), my exposure to the art has been limited. However, Northern Ballet have managed to educate me in the capabilities and imagination of such productions.

My first experience was an unusual one as Northern Ballet first tackled dystopic literary classic 1984 last year (masterfully I should add). I craved to see a bit more pomp and frill of a classic such as Swan Lake. The fluttering, dreamlike swan scenes and painful tale of romance were the perfect remedy, but the story has been given a thoroughly modern facelift, through both the choreography and more-than-hinted element of homoerotic romance. It certainly benefited from both of these elements, innovating a story that could be pigeonholed as tired and stale. As a first timer however, the alternative narrative that fed through came as a surprise; rather than the original tale of an evil spell cast over Swan-maiden Odette, and the tragic death of the lovers, the story is told a little differently, feeding in also the complication of the aforementioned male lover.

Swan Lake review - Article 1

Ultimately, the narrative framework from the story feels secondary to the power and emotional expression of the dancing, which is aided beautifully by a wardrobe located in the 1900’s. Shades of the British Empire - turbans and parasols for the ladies; white linens and boater hats for the gentlemen - feed into the ‘reality’ scenes, evoking gentrified summers on the Riviera. Another innovation was the extraordinary use of bicycles in the opening scenes, an interesting element that cut through the more delicate displays.

Performances were impeccable. The painfully precise Pas de Quatre Cygnet’s Dance was executed perfectly, and I watched four sets of identical limbs with baited breath. Odette and Antony’s love scenes are also breath taking, the parts played on the 9th by Martha Leebolt and Tobias Batley. In the lifts, she appears to melt into the air, as light as the feather plume affixed to her head. Acrobatic tomfoolery also punctuates the story, bringing welcome comic relief to a more sombre tale.

Touring around the country over the next two months, this show is worth chasing into the water.

Emma is a Freelance Writer for Leeds Living. She has a degree in English literature from the University of Leeds and specialises in writing cultural editorials.
Photography provided by Emma Kaulder