Culture: Swan Lake at Bondi Icebergs

It’s one of my favourite locations and one of my favourite ballets, so I couldn’t resist posting these pictures of Australian Ballet dancers at Bondi Icebergs. The company took advantage of the weekly emptying of the iconic beach-side pool to celebrate the new season of Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake launching in February 2015.

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Since the ballet’s premiere in 2002, the current version of Swan Lake has undoubtedly become the company’s masterpiece and has a recurring spot on the schedule to match. Having seen it for the first time in Melbourne last year, I fell instantly under Murphy’s spell. Over ten years on from its inception, I think it benefits from increased distance from its tabloid-worthy subject matter (it was originally inspired by the death of Princess Di) to explore more universal themes of love, deception and betrayal.

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Whereas the traditional story sees the black swan Oldie tricking the unwitting prince into betraying Odette, in Murphy’s version, our prince is simply in love with two different women. Rather than casting the female leads as innocent and devious; black and white; they are both suffering from being in love with someone who hurts them – something that I think makes the story more complex and in a way, darker. I find the way the vampy Baroness becomes more vulnerable, while Odette takes on a harder edge towards the end of the ballet, particularly haunting, especially the expression of this through their evolving dancing styles and on-stage presence.

The other thing I love about this version is the clever, bold and quite modern connection between the choreography, score, costume and settings. There’s a scene where Odette is confined to an asylum. Devastated by grief, she becomes passive as people move around her and she stares lifelessly out into the woods outside. It’s here, in the distance, that her imagination is free. As we enter her mind, the walls of the asylum are wrenched away to reveal her swans dancing on an elevated mirror/lake. The movement of the sets with the dancing and musical crescendo come together in a really powerful way to represent how painful and maddening love can be – I defy anyone not to be moved by that at least.

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