The story of Swan Lake has been captivating audiences for over a century. Prince Siegfried falls in love with the Swan Princess Odette, who has been cursed by the sorcerer Von Rothbart. The Prince is tricked into declaring his love for the sorcerer’s daughter, the black swan Odile, and a distraught Odette throws herself into the lake – Siegfried, horrified by what he has done, follows her. The spell is broken, Von Rothbart is killed, and the lovers are forever united in death.
Evgenia Obraztsova and Victor Estevez. All photos © David Kelly
Tchaikovsky’s lilting score was beautifully performed by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Queensland Ballet Music Director Nigel Gaynor, and choreographer Ben Stevenson, OBE, joined the company all the way from Texas to coach the dancers and add his finishing touches to their rendition of his choreography, staged by Tim O’Keefe. Sumptuous sets and stunningly detailed costumes designed by Kristian Frederikson, and innovative lighting design by Glenn Hughes brought the enchanted lake and the colourful royal court to life.
Alina Cojocaru, who joined Queensland Ballet as Aurora for two special performances of Sleeping Beauty in 2015, was initially advertised to dance the lead dual role of the swan princess Odette and the sorcerer’s daughter Odile, again as a special guest for two nights only. Cojocaru had to withdraw, citing personal reasons, and her role as special guest was filled by Bolshoi Ballet soloist Evgenia Obraztsova, acclaimed worldwide and much in demand as a guest artist.
Obraztsova was truly incredible to watch – every line, every extension and suspension, was executed with otherworldly grace and perfect classical technique. Not only was she strong, flexible and technically precise, but Obraztsova was also a beautiful character as the Swan Princess Odette, her bourees making her seem as if she was actually floating.
The role of Prince Siegfried was danced emotively by Victor Estevez, who danced as a guest star alongside Alina Cojocaru in the 2015 season of Greg Horsman’s Sleeping Beauty before joining Queensland Ballet as a principal artist in 2016. He danced with exceptional elevation and control, making difficult leaps and turns look effortless and landing triple pirouettes with grace and apparent ease. In the pas de deux with Odile, however, he overbalanced on landing. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except that he made a disappointed face as he threw an arm out to steady himself. He danced the character of Prince Siegfried very emotively, especially in his work with Odette and his interaction with the Queen Mother in which she demands that he choose a bride.
Act 1 opened to a lively scene in the royal court, celebrating the Prince’s coming of age. Queensland Ballet Academy classical coach and répétiteur Zenia Tátcheva was a dynamic character artist as the Queen Mother, and Jack Lister brought slapstick comedy to the stage as Siegfried’s tutor. Yanela Piñera, Vanessa Morelli and Joel Woellner performed a lovely pas de trois – Piñera and Morelli with beautifully neat footwork, and Woellner’s elevation and strength always impressive. Morelli was a standout in the corps through the whole ballet.
Lucy Green, Sophie Zoricic, Mia Heathcote and Neneka Yoshida
Moving from the light and colour of the royal court to the mist and magic of the lakeside, the swan maidens were perfectly in time, a swirl of soft, white tutus. Lucy Green, Sophie Zoricic, Mia Heathcote and Neneka Yoshida were light and precise as the iconic cygnets, and Vanessa Morelli and Georgia Swan were equally lovely in their duet.
The curtain rose on the second act for the four princesses to dance in the hope of winning the Prince’s heart. Vanessa Morelli continued to shine as the Spanish princess, escorted by Vito Bernasconi and Joel Woellner; Sophie Zoricic was fun, playful and synchronised with partner D’arcy Brazier as the Czardas princess; Tamara Hanton was dynamic as the Neopolitan princess, partnered by Jack Lister; and Lucy Green and David Power seemed to be having fun together as the Mazurka princess and her escort, despite the fast, fancy footwork and fast pace. All of the dancers had lovely synchronicity and great characterisation with smooth, full movements.
In the dynamic pas de deux between the Prince and the Black Swan, Evgenia Obraztsova slipped in and out of the darker character. While still technically perfect in the black tutu, she maintained some of the sweetness and softness of Odette, lacking the colder, arrogant sensuality of the sorcerer’s daughter. Her character felt stronger when she danced alone, the chemistry between Odile and the Prince not as striking as that between Siegfried and Odette. Nonetheless Estevez and Obraztsova were captivating as they skillfully executed the complex choreography with flair and the final confrontation with Rothbart – dressed for this adaptation as a reptilian creature with enormous wings – and the suicide of the lovers was magnificently climactic.
Select performances of Swan Lake were followed by an audience Q&A with the two principal dancers and Principal Conductor Nigel Gaynor, facilitated by Artistic Director Li Cunxin, who spoke about the importance of bringing audiences closer to the dancers in this way. The panel discussed their personal history with Swan Lake, the tight rehearsal schedule, and their own career highlights. Guest principal Evgenia Obraztsova spoke highly of her first visit to Australia, and of working with Queensland Ballet. “It was one of my dreams to visit this country, and I am very happy that I’m here and can share the stage with such beautiful dancers,” she said. “People are so warm, so open. You feel at home, you don’t really worry about things because you know the people around you are very kind, they support you.”