The Concourse, Chatswood
June 30, 2017

Melbourne Ballet Company’s Archè takes Tchaikovsky’s well-loved Swan Lake as its jumping off point, combining some of the iconic elements of the ballet with a more contemporary language – a language nonetheless rooted in Classical traditions.

Choreographed by the company’s resident choreographer Simon Hoy and guest choreographer Timothy Podesta – who choreographed MBC’s new work Being and Time, which premiered at Hawthorn Arts Centre earlier this year – Archè draws on more legends than just Swan Lake. The work is also influenced by the Greek myth Leda and the Swan (and the Yeats poem based on the myth) as well as Tennyson’s The Dying Swan and its balletic reimagining by Michel Fokine.

MBC’s swans glide en pointe, their arms undulating in graceful wing movements, but their motions extend beyond traditional ballet forms, stretching and curling in more naturalistic – yet still lyrical – movements.

Archè’s narrative owes much to Swan Lake. In the opening scene, against a swirling cloudscape projected on the back of the stage, Rothbart – the dark spirit of the forest, his costume decked with black feathers – enchants Odette and a group of young maidens in the forest, turning them into swans.

Alexander Baden Bryce is a sleek, predatory Rothbart. Fluid and imperious in his movements, he lifts each of the maidens – their powerlessness in his grasp palpable as they’re borne aloft, Odette (danced by Kristy Lee Denovan) suspended upside down above the stage.

Denovan is a graceful, plaintive Odette, executing a deft change of character to become Odile in the second act – her pas de deux with Baden Bryce, as he conjures Odile into being, is a particular highlight. The Odette/Rothbart relationship in this piece is complex. The first act ends with Odette and the Prince entwined on the forest floor, but she awakes in the arms of Rothbart, her body curling away as she realises who she’s with, an echo of the Leda myth (Leda was seduced by the god Zeus in the form of a swan).

Joseph Phillips dances the Prince, who falls in love with Odette, only to be seduced by Odile – on a mischievous Rothbart’s puppet strings – in the second act. Phillips brings a confident energy to the role and his pursuit of Odette in the finale is both athletic and impassioned.

Matt Dillon gives a fine performance as the Prince’s friend (or manservant), joining the Prince on his hunt and matching the ensemble movements of the princesses competing for the attentions of the Prince – their movements angular and artificial in comparison with the smoother lines of the swans.

The corps de ballet were convincing as both swans and princesses, their feather-like tutus fluffing up as their movements evoke preening swans. If some of the more complex movements in the first act weren’t precisely synchronised, the second act was tight as a drum.

While contemporary elements infuse both the movements and the narrative, there is plenty of nostalgia for the earlier works. Audiences will recognise choreography based on the hand-in-hand Danse des petits cygnes (Dance of the cygnets) from the Petipa/Ivanov version of the ballet and Tchaikovsky’s score weaves in and out between the surging minimalistic music of Einaudi and excerpts by Elgar and film composer Ennio Morricone.

While the soundtrack was effective, the music in the Concourse Theatre was on the loud side on Friday night – it was right on the edge of distortion at times.

Melbourne Ballet Company’s Archè is a fresh look at a well-loved work, bringing a more contemporary dance language to one of the most loved ballets in the repertoire. The focus on the relationship between Rothbart and Odette/Odile provides a compelling platform on which Alexander Baden Bryce and Maughen Jemesen shine.

Melbourne Ballet Company tours Archè and Empyrean through Queensland, NSW, ACT and Victoria. For more information click here.