Scottish Ballet gives Swan Lake an exciting new makeover
Forget wicked spells and tutus – David Dawson gives the world’s most popular ballet a rebrand
It’s the most recognisable ballet music ever written. Play just a few bars from Swan Lake and most people, dance fans or not, will recognise where it comes from. And a stage full of tutu-clad ballerinas dancing in unison, while Tchaikovsky’s score brings a collective lump to the throat, is the archetypal image of classical ballet.
In short, re-branding Swan Lake isn’t easy. But British choreographer David Dawson is about to do just that with his new production for Scottish Ballet. Dawson himself calls Swan Lake ‘the Mona Lisa of ballets’, and has had to push aside the four-act Lev Ivanov / Marius Petipa version, which companies have been dancing in one guise or another for over 100 years, and create his own two-act ballet.
At the heart of this romantic tragedy is the love story of Prince Siegfried and the vulnerable Princess Odette. A love affair severely hampered by Odette’s transformation into a swan during daylight hours, due to a curse by the evil Von Rothbart. Or at least that’s how it used to be. Dawson’s version gives Odette far more autonomy over her own existence. Now she’s a strong woman rather than a victim – allowing principal dancer, Sophie Martin more freedom to create a role she can believe in.
‘I think it will be easier to play her this way,’ she says. ‘I’m not sure how I would portray her the other way, there would be an awkwardness. David’s movement is quite free, and that doesn’t fit with somebody who feels trapped, so it’s better if she’s not a victim. David sees her more as a goddess, so I’ll try to keep her soft – but not boring!’
The flipside to Odette is the seductive Odile, a ‘Black Swan’ who fools Siegfried into thinking she’s Odette – also played by Martin. The dual roles are widely recognised as being the toughest, but most exciting, challenge in classical ballet.
‘It will be the first time I’ve danced two characters in one night,’ says Martin. ‘Technically it’s a big challenge, and I need to make sure I don’t get lost in that and still think about the storytelling. But the choreography will help me – I’ll be more confident as the Black Swan in act two and in the way I attack the solo. And of course the way I look will make a big difference.’
Ah yes, the costumes – a fundamental aspect of traditional Swan Lakes, but shaken up here to the point where all the female costumes from the ‘big white’ scene can fit into one suitcase. All the better to see Dawson’s choreography, and not get bogged down in what he calls ‘the velvet and the swag’.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, stands Prince Siegfried – a character also in receipt of a much needed makeover.
‘I don’t see him as a prince,’ says principal dancer Christopher Harrison. ‘I see him as somebody who is very normal. He’s insecure, lonely, finds it difficult to make a connection to people – but wants to be loved and to love somebody back.’
For both Harrison and Martin, taking on the roles of Siegfried and Odette is a career highlight, especially with Dawson at the helm.
‘It’s bizarre,’ says Harrison with a laugh, ‘because as a kid I watched amazing dancers perform Siegfried – and to see my name next to that role is going to be pretty awesome. It’s a great opportunity.
‘Swan Lake hasn’t been in the Scottish Ballet repertoire for such a long time, and with David creating it – one of the best choreographers of his generation – this is going to be an iconic production for the company.’
Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Tue 19–Sat 23 Apr, 7.30pm (Sat mat 2pm); Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Wed 25–Sat 28 May, 7.30pm (Thu and Sat 2pm).