The Australian Ballet’s opening night of Swan Lake – ushering in its run from December 1 to December 20, 2023, at the Joan Sutherland Theatre – unfolded as a testament to the company’s enduring commitment to classical repertoire while keeping with the times. Artistic Director David Hallberg, who opened the night with insightful background, artfully reinvented the timeless love story, drawing inspiration from Anne Woolliams’ 1977 Australian Ballet production. As Hallberg explains, the inaugural 1877 production of Swan Lake was met with a frosty reception in Russia, but fast forward 146 years and it’s now the most famous and perhaps most loved ballet in the world.
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Recognising the imperative for this timeless classic to resonate with contemporary and upcoming audiences, Hallberg skillfully navigated the evolution of Swan Lake. The success of this new production lies in its adept incorporation of subtle twists, seamlessly bridging the gap between tradition and innovation. It was a stunning choice to end the Australian Ballet’s successful 2023 season.
Hallberg, returning to Woolliams’ choreographic roots, presents a traditional four-act version with a unique twist—the merging of the first and second acts into a seamless narrative. Retaining much of the original choreography, the production breathes new life into the classic with a collaborative effort in design, featuring the creative minds of US designers Mara Blumenfeld (costumes) and Daniel Ostling (set).
The most notable transformations occur in the second and fourth acts at The Lake. Departing from conventional built set designs, these acts embrace a contemporary feel, utilising projected light and simple, abstract forms. A striking focal point is the enormous swan wing projected onto the front scrim, serving as both a celebration of natural beauty and an exploration of abstract shapes.
David Hallberg’s vision delves into Swan Lake’s timeless themes of yearning, betrayal, and love, providing a refreshing perspective that captures the beauty and potency of the art form. The ballet’s iconic characters—Prince Siegfried, the Swan Queen Odette, and her malevolent counterpart Odile—unfold in a narrative of doomed love that resonates universally.
Accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s poignant score, the performance highlights ballet’s most renowned scenes, including the resplendent Act II pas de deux for Siegfried and Odette. Benedicte Bemet, embodying the dual roles of Odette and Odile, and Joseph Caley as Prince Siegfried, bring vitality and emotion to characters that have captivated audiences worldwide. Joseph Romancewicz as the sinister von Rothbart was so convincing, his character was simultaneously celebrated and booed by the audience at the end of the night – a credit to Romancewicz’s embodiment of Swan Lake’s villain.
This majestic reinterpretation of Swan Lake stands as a unique and innovative contribution to Australian ballet history and was honoured with a standing ovation at the end of the night. By seamlessly blending tradition with contemporary design and storytelling, the Australian Ballet, under the direction of David Hallberg, has crafted a production that promises to redefine the timeless masterpiece for loyalists, as well as new to ballet.
Limited tickets are left for the production, with most dates now sold out.
- Where: Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House / Tubowgule
- When: 1 – 20 December 2023
- Purchase tickets here to The Australian Ballet’s Swan Lake