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The Australian Ballet Presents Graeme Murphy’s "Swan Lake" at the David H. Koch Theater
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The Australian Ballet Presents Graeme Murphy’s "Swan Lake" at the David H. Koch Theater

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The Australian Ballet
(Australian Ballet Website)

David McAllister, Artistic Director
Valerie Wilder, Executive Director

Graeme Murphy’s
Swan Lake

With the New York City Ballet Orchestra
Guest Conductor: Nicolette Fraillon,
Music Director, Australian Ballet

At the
David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 15, 2012

Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake (2002) Choreography by Graeme Murphy, Music by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Concept by Graeme Murphy, Janet Vernon, and Kristian Fredrikson, Set and Costume Design by Kristian Fredrikson, Lighting Design by Damien Cooper, reproduced by Robert Cuddon, Performed by Madeleine Eastoe as Odette, Kevin Jackson as Prince Siegfried, Lucinda Dunn as Baroness von Rothbart.

I am sure there will be controversy as to the worthiness of a contemporary Swan Lake that extrapolates from the original theme and re-creates it into a psychological fantasy. For this writer, it was magnificent. Siegfried, in the original, falls in love with the ingénue, doomed Odette, a white swan, who can only survive if she marries in true love, in order to break the spell of von Rothbart, an evil winged monster, with a full ballet corps of spellbound white swans. Also, in the original and its subsequent ballet incarnations, Siegfried is tricked by von Rothbart and his “daughter” Odile, a black swan (same ballerina as Odette), who seduces Siegfried into proposing at his birthday ball, when faced with bland princesses as bridal options. In the original, all the “good” characters are doomed, while the “evil” Odile disappears and von Rothbart dies of despair, when Odette (then Siegfried) jumps into the lake. At least, that’s the general theme of most versions.

In Graeme Murphy’s 2002 version, a demure young bride, Odette, suddenly sees, at the Wedding Ball, the chemistry that her new husband, Prince Siegfried, exudes for another woman, Baroness von Rothbart, who generally steals his heart. Odette has a quasi-nervous breakdown, and Siegfried’s mother, the Queen, has Odette sent to a sanatorium, where the windows to her tiny room open to scenes of a frozen lake, where dozens of white swans swim serenely. Or, Odette is dreaming this scene, from the drugs she is forced to swallow. When Siegfried visits Odette, she and we see him leave the sanatorium property with the Baroness, arms locked. Months later, Odette comes upon Siegfried again, at another palace ball, and this time Siegfried falls in love with her, once more. The Baroness tries to force the Queen to commit Odette again to the sanatorium, but Odette flees to the lake. Even though Siegfried finds and embraces her, she succumbs to the power of the lake’s beauty, and makes it her eternal home. Siegfried is left alone and mourning.

Madeleine Eastoe, as Odette, is one of the best character ballet actors I have seen, breathlessly radiant and consumed with passion, then ravaged with fear and isolation. When the sanatorium nurses force her to bathe in steaming water (onstage) she seemed like a silent film actress, thrown on the tracks, eyes wide and limbs shaking. Kevin Jackson, as Prince Siegfried, morphed from one amorous adventure to the next, then back, with persuasive theatricality. Lucinda Dunn, as Baroness von Rothbart, was every bit the Odile character, devious and wily. The remaining cast was unlisted, but each was notably dramatic to the role. Most riveting were the sanatorium scenes, with Odette curled up at her window, dreaming of a frozen safe haven, where she could swim with the swans. Moreover, those very swans, the corps, danced with exceptional synchronization, effervescence, and surrealism.

The concept of this ballet, by Graeme Murphy, Janet Vernon, and Kristian Fredrikson is brilliant and timeless. There will be those who draw comparisons to the recent and current British Royals and their family dramas, but I prefer to see Murphy’s Swan Lake as a psychological extrapolation of the original, with Siegfried’s and Odette’s interior mental process re-enacted by the company. The choreography by Graeme Murphy is mainly designed for the corps, in swirling circles around a giant blue, then black lake, and in partnered waltzes in two ballroom scenes. Each corps dance scene transports the viewer. Tchaikovsky’s original score is fragmented and re-worked for unexpected dramatic moments, not where one would anticipate. This is fine, as each choreographer has artistic license to create a unique, new production. Kristian Fredrikson’s set and costume design are intrinsic to the appeal and fascination of Murphy’s intriguing presentation of Swan Lake. Damien Cooper’s lighting design makes the sanatorium appalling and the lake alluring. Kudos to Graeme Murphy, and kudos to David McAllister and The Australian Ballet.

Madeleine Eastoe and Kevin Jackson with The Australian Ballet in
Graeme Murphy's "Swan Lake"
Courtesy of Lisa Tomasetti

The Australian Ballet in
Graeme Murphy's "Swan Lake"
Courtesy of Jeff Busby

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at