Royal Czech Ballet: Swan Lake

Do you ever wonder why audiences flock to theatres to see yet another production of Swan Lake? Many of course are experiencing the ballet for the first time. Others perhaps want to refresh a treasured memory or be transported into a fantasy world of flawless beauty. To many, Swan Lake above all, means ballet. Often it’s the only ballet they’ll ever see live. Perhaps the only ballet they want to see live.

The latest production of Swan Lake to visit the Canberra Theatre was presented by the Royal Czech Ballet, making its first visit to Australia.

Founded in 2008 by Andrey Scharaev, the core of the Royal Czech Ballet are dancers born and trained in Moldova but augmented by guest soloists from around the world. The company boasts a repertoire which includes in addition to Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote and Giselle, but for its first Australian tour the company is presenting only its production of Swan Lake starring Moldova born ballerina, Cristina Terentiev, dancing the dual roles of Odette/Odile.

A surprisingly lavish production given its extensive touring program, with choreography based on the familiar 1895 Petipa/ Ivanov revival choreography for the Imperial Ballet in the Marinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.

This production is notable for its lovely settings featuring gorgeous painted backcloths complimented by excellent lighting and sound, elegant costumes and immaculately groomed dancers. And while the dancing could hardly be described as inspired, it was beautifully performed by both soloists and ensemble with careful attention to detail and mood.

The ballet commences with a party scene in front of the royal palace to celebrate the twenty-first birthday of Prince Siegfried (Nikolay Nazarkevich). During the festivities, Siegfried’s mother (Maria Mihailova) presents him with a crossbow and advises him that it is time for him to marry.

To that end she has arranged a ball for the very next evening and invited several eligible princesses from among which she expects Siegfried to choose his future wife.

Understandably nonplussed by his mother’s demands Siegfried takes his crossbow and wanders off into the forest. When he reaches the lake, he finds himself surrounded by a flock of swans. As he takes aim with his crossbow, their leader transforms into a beautiful woman, Odette (Cristina Terentiev).

Siegfried is immediately smitten with Odette, but she tells him that a sorcerer, Baron Von Rothbart, (Vladimir Statni) has cast a spell on her which can only be broken by a man promising his love and remaining faithful to her. Of course Siegfried immediately promises his eternal love.

At the ball the following night Siegfried is unresponsive to any of the princesses his mother has chosen but cheers up considerably when the Baron arrives with the feisty Odile on his arm. Perhaps because she is also danced by Cristina Terentiev, Siegfried understandably mistakes her for Odette.

Sadly for Siegfried he doesn’t see Odette trying to attract his attention at the window, and after some energetic pas de deux with Odile he asks her to marry him. Revealing her deception, Odile laughs in his face and sweeps out of the ball with the Baron.

But all is not lost for in this version when Siegfried returns to the lake to try to explain his predicament to Odette. When Baron Von Rothbart interferes, Siegfried and the Baron resort to fisticuffs. Siegfried lands a killer-punch on the baron who succumbs; thereby breaking the spell and paving the way for Siegfried and Odette to live happily ever after.

Through-out the storytelling is clear and the dancing accomplished, especially from Cristina Terentiev, a superb ballerina who offers two clearly delineated characterisations as Odette and Odile. Soft, elegant and other-worldly as Odile; thrillingly virtuosic as Odile; Terentiev commands the stage.

Every inch the Prima Ballerina, she performs every step and gesture of the choreography with studied precision, constantly exhibiting a beautiful line, and concluding her solos with remarkable bows which are a masterclass of their own.

Terentiev is given excellent support by Nikolay Nazarkevich, himself a tall, elegant dancer as well as a considerate partner. Japanese-born, Seiyu Ogasawara, as the Court Jester, provides the razzle dazzle, thrilling with the sheer energy and virtuosity of his dancing, while Vladimir Statni, as the mysterious Baron Von Rothbart, provides a strong dramatic presence as he prowls the stage in his spectacular scarlet lined black cape.

Other soloists impressed in the various specialty dances particularly in the opening party scene and the ballroom scene. But it was the white scenes on the lake, beautifully performed by the 18 beautifully costumed and immaculately groomed swans, which drew audible murmurs of approval from the clearly impressed capacity audience on the first night.

Leaving little doubt that while ever companies continue to mount productions of Swan Lake as respectfully and as carefully as this production by the Royal Czech Ballet, audiences will continue to flock to them to be enchanted.

Royal Czech Ballet: Swan Lake
Canberra Theatre – Canberra Theatre Centre, Civic Square, Canberra
Performance: Sunday 18 September 2022

Image: Nikolay Nazarkevic and Cristina Terentiev in Swan Lake (supplied)

Review: Bill Stephens OAM