The West Australian
by Naomi Millett
Swan Lake is the ultimate fairytale - so popular since its beginnings as a ballet 130 years ago that some company somewhere around the globe is performing the two-act work every day of the year.That means plenty of dance versions for the purists, with room left over for some genre-blending in this updated version of the classic by artistic director/choreographer Tony Mercer. It has been two years since the Imperial Russian Ice Stars last wooed us in Perth and expectations were high as patrons perused another lavish, glitter-encrusted souvenir program.
With its central love story, a thrilling battle between good and evil, elements of the supernatural and Tchaikovsky’s uplifting score, Swan Lake has timeless appeal. But reworked on ice for 25 of Russia’s most talented competitive skaters, it is transported into a new, high-tech realm of sophistication.
As the curtain rises we are struck both by the exquisitely detailed, richly hued, 18th century palace ballroom setting and by the chill emanating from the 14 tonnes of frozen water used on the tiny 15m wide stage - a quarter of the size of a normal skating arena. This is the magical domain of Prince Siegfried, (dashingly played by Vadim Yarkov) seen living it up at his 21st birthday party with playful best mate Benno (crowd favourite Andrei Penkine) and an array of gorgeously attired guests.
The choreography flows effortlessly with stylised court dances before the dramatic interruption of Anton Klykov’s black-taped, devilish Count Von Rothbart and accompanying leatherclad henchmen.
Exuding evil charisma, Klykov’s half-bird, half-man ripped across the stage, sending ice chips arcing through the air with a sound like swords being sharpened on steel. Perhaps the most outstanding ice technician, he too was a huge hit, as was his wild, scarlet and black costumed daughter Odile (Olena Pyatash). These equivalents of modern day terrorists are not to be messed with; in later sequences they become monstrous, winged menaces on stilts, threatening all who cross their woodland path.
In the course of 13 short scenes, intricate backdrops rise and fall in seconds, allowing the tale to progress effortlessly. The details are easy to follow with extensive program notes, but even without this the cast’s skilled mime clearly conveys all the action. Throughout, Mercer and his creative team add spice to the ice with a breathtaking array of special effects and acrobatic stunts that enhance the cast’s expressive artistry and grace.
The swans, eerily illuminated in ultraviolet light, literally take off and at one point Swan Princess Odette (Olga Sharutenko) conveys her vulnerability by swapping skates for ballet shoes in a delicate homage to the original dance. Showstealing moments among many in Act Two include a tension-ridden confrontation between physical dynamo Rothbart and Odette, and a set of national dances (including a witty take on Riverdance) featuring an array of princesses keen to win the Prince’s hand.
One of two significant plot variations is that Mercer has opted to add realism by employing two different women to represent Odette and Odile, rather than the usual one performer. As for the other “twist”, you will have to see the show or the surprise will be spoiled.
With its stellar cast and stylish blend of traditional and modern theatrics and ice dance, this Swan Lake is a spellbinding dramatic experience that will thrill the senses. Opening night’s performance was met with multiple curtain calls and a standing ovation from an ecstatic capacity audience.