Swan Lake ~ The Australian Ballet

Natasha Ciesielski
7th Dec 2023

For the final show of the year, Australian Ballet Artistic Director David Hallberg chose the classic and perhaps one of the most well-known stories, Swan Lake.

Principals Benedicte Bemet and Joseph Caley dance the title roles.

Swan Lake is the tragic love story of Prince Siegfried (Caley) who falls in love with the swan/maiden Odette (Bemet). Only a vow of true love and fidelity can break the spell and free Odette from her swan existence however Siegfried is tricked into betraying Odette.

Swan Lake was first performed at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1877. Since 1962, The Australian Ballet has performed Swan Lake close to 800 times, making it the most staged work in its repertoire. Over time the story has been adapted and the choreography changed with dance troupes making it their own version. Hallberg himself has danced Swan Lake with almost every major dance company in the world.

The 2023 Australian Ballet version is the late Artistic Director (1976-78) Anne Woolliams’ interpretation of French/Russian Marius Petipa’s choreography. Woolliams’ wanted the dancers to move with authenticity and studied birds, in particular swans, to bring their avian movements into the choreography. Her version is dramatic and perfectly matched to Tchaikovsky’s dramatic haunting score performed by Opera Australia Orchestra.

Swan Lake is considered one of the most technically difficult ballets to perform, especially as the lead is required to play a dual role, that of vulnerable and heartfelt Odette (White Swan) and the deceptive but beguiling Odile (Black Swan). Bemet performs both roles with ease. Her movements are exquisite as she back bends gracefully away from Caley, simultaneously communicating the hope and despair of Odette. One of the most notorious steps in Swan Lake is ’32 fouettés’ which Bemet performs with controlled expertise. ’32 fouettés’, involves the dancer pirouettes releveing (rising up) on pointe on one leg while the other whips around her.

Caley is captivating in his solos but it's during his sequences with Bemet we see depth in the couple.  Woolliams’ encouraged the dancers to go deeper than technical perfection, to show humanity. We see this especially when Odette and Siegfried look at each other with love and passion during their pas de deux.

Also of note, Marcus Morelli as the Jester stood out especially with his air split jumps which showed off his strength and vigor.

It’s a treat to see the 26 members of the corps de ballet on stage together. The swan corps dance in unison, flawless synchrony, looking beautiful in glittering jewel-encrusted white tutus designed by Mara Blumenfeld.

The Australian Ballet’s Swan Lake closes the season with enduring allure, emotion and tricky steps that allow the dancers to shine.

Swan Lake will show at the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House until 20 December.

To purchase tickets 》 australianballet.com.au/performances/swan-lake/