Theatre Review: Swan Lake, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Ballet
Genre: Drama
Date: June 1 2016
Location: Liverpool Empire Theatre

There are many different approaches that one can take to ballet. For some, it’s about telling a story. For others, it’s about the costumes and how they visualise a show for you. A couple might just be expecting a bear in a car (Simpsons reference). But in this case, the Scottish Ballet team have decided to tell the story of Swan Lake by focusing solely on the ballet, and allowing the dancing to tell the story. No fancy settings, no cute costumes, and no dialogue. And by concentrating on key aspects – and its strengths – it results in a very good production of this classic ballet tale, and ensures that the audience are impressed by the dancing on display, since their eyes are locked solely on the performers.

Although this retelling of the classic story is as modern as you can expect in such a setting (the ballet aspect provides limitations on how modern it can be; for example, don’t anticipate that the slow, soft and gentle orchestra music will be replaced by rap or R&B!), the plotline itself is anything but. The very first production of Swan Lake was written in 1877 and was backed up by the music of Tchaikovsky, and it is this classic score which serves as the audio for this 2016 version as well.

Going back to the story, which is told over four acts (with an intermission between Act II and Act III): Prince Siegfried (Christopher Harrison), initially alone (and he is left alone wondering and wandering at various points throughout the performance), is advised to find a bride, but not for reasons of true love. His friends try to lift his spirits, whilst also helping him to find a suitable lady by searching for the swans. He soon meets Odette (Sophie Martin), who after initial hesitation accepts the Prince as a perfect gentleman and their relationship soon blossoms. But after the arrival of some evil black swans, it is clear that their presence and their actions has left a terrible, life-threatening impact upon the duo, and it soon becomes clear that they must find a way to battle their devilish ways or face some dire consequences. I won’t provide further details so as not spoil the ending, although I will note that certain aspects of the plot have been tweaked, meaning that you may be surprised by some of what you see on the stage. And all of this is told solely through ballet dance; as noted earlier, even minor dialogue is not included. It’s all about the dance.

So, it’s fortunate that the ballet moves and dance sequences are stunning. Harrison as Siegfried, the most featured performer, is the person whose dance scenes are the most eye-catching of the production, and Sophie also does a fantastic job as Odette. That being said, all of the performers are very good; it’s clear that this is a very talented cast, and one who take pride in their performances, ensuring that every single ballet routine right down to the smallest details are executed perfectly. It is a great compliment to the crew that they tell an occasionally-confusing story solely through dance, and do so very well. Sure, there’s no dialogue, no costumes, no settings, but the show works without all of that.

It’s definitely a show which is aimed at a specific audience; namely, those who appreciate ballet. Whereas some theatre shows of a certain genre can still attract the interest of a crowd who would normally not enjoy such a production, you really do have to be a fan of ballet in order to get the most enjoyment out of this show. Even amongst those who like ballet, the lack of “extras”, or more specifically the sole focus on the ballet dance sequences, could lead certain spectators wanting more. For those with a fine appreciation for the art of ballet, however, you will really enjoy this modern take on the classic tale; and even those with some reservations will find the dance sequences to be more than enough in providing entertainment and telling the story.

Simply put, if you’re a fan of ballet, then you need to make sure that you see Swan Lake.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good