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No Fairy Tale

Generally, a production of “Swan Lake” is only as good as its Odette and Odile, symbolic of the duality of nature. So, it’s wonderful to see Sophie Martin back, dancing one of her signature roles. She's predictably brilliant.

That being said, choreographer David Dawson, who first debuted this piece in 2016, has made a few narrative decisions here which are slightly jarring. By removing the sorcerer Rothbart, who places the curse on Princess Odette, and making Odette a swan/lady hybrid, the stakes are lower and the motivation unclear.

Performance

Scottish Ballet: “Swan Lake” by David Dawson

Place

Theatre Royal, Glasgow, UK, April 4, 2024

Words

Lorna Irvine

Bruno Micchiardi and Sophie Martin in “Swan Lake” by David Dawson. Photograph by Andy Ross

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Instead, eschewing any kind of enchantment, Dawson leaves his light, gorgeous choreography to breathe freely. There are no tutus here, but Yumiko Takeshima’s lovely costumes instead feel evocative of bohemian art students, mostly in a muted palette of soft earthy greens, burnished oranges and browns. Initially, the royal court is instead transformed into a ’fifties dancehall style, with gestural movements and solos from the company, all trying to impress the highly discerning Siegfried. Even the backdrop, designed by John Otto, is reminiscent of a modern art gallery, with its sharp light grey jagged shapes.

Siegfried, although divested of royal pomp and grandeur, still swaggers with toxic entitlement. Bruno Micchiardi is as lithe and spirited as ever in the role, but even his wonderful mirroring work with best friend Benno (Thomas Edwards) who physically resembles him, cannot make his character more appealing. He’s like a spoilt teenage brat: you could picture retreating into his bedroom to listen to emo and scribble furious poetry. Angst accompanies his every sullen stomp and twirl, when not high- fiving his bro.

His outsider status is reinforced by falling in love with Martin's swan lady Odette, an ethereal vision in a white leotard, pirouetting flawlessly and demonstrating feathery glissades. Hers is an otherworldly presence. She is as delicate as lace, but with an enigmatic undercurrent. By entrusting Siegfried with her rare gem, she becomes more human, more vulnerable.

Scottish Ballet in “Swan Lake” by David Dawson. Photograph by Andy Ross

As Odile though, flanked by an adoring coterie of masked male dancers who gatecrash Siegfried’s party, Martin seems less villainous, more haughty little minx. To the sound of castanets, Martin dances a Latin inspired solo that’s pretty, and sensual, but perhaps not as dangerous as I wanted it to be. As she takes the gem from Siegfried and flounces off into the night, abandoning him, there's an overwhelming sense of apathy. Siegfried’s fated loneliness should be devastating, but since he's such a hard character to invest in, the result is a shrug of indifference.

Happily, Dawson’s emotional choreography makes up for the thin storyline and the erasure of magical fairy tale qualities. The pas de deux between Siegfried and Odette is a clear highlight, showcasing how effortless Micchiardi and Martin's chemistry and artistry is. They seem to become one creature, melting into each other. It’s both tender and tentatively erotic.

The lake itself is simply a white curve, as minimalist as the rest of the set. It looks like a white ribbon or arc of light. It ties in nicely with Dawson's stripped back aesthetic, keeping things unobtrusive, the better to focus on the company's work.

Sophie Martin in “Swan Lake” by David Dawson. Photograph by Andy Ross

The Swans, too, representing facets of Odette’s mystique, are subtle, bringing a much needed soupçon of enchantment, beguiling with their birdlike physicality and agile bounding. The sheer intensity of the pointe work and tilted bodies holds the audience breathless.

It may not be a Matthew Bourne-style reinvention of the classic ballet then, but what Dawson does is bring an emotional eloquence that is hard to resist. But tonight, it's all about the wonder that is Sophie Martin. Her grace, mesmeric dancing, intelligence and inspiring presence reminds us all why we fell in love with her in the first place. Everything else just melts away when she takes to the stage. In lieu of the nefarious magician Von Rothbart, she provides the real alchemy of the evening.

Lorna Irvine


Based in Glasgow, Lorna was delightfully corrupted by the work of Michael Clark in her early teens, and has never looked back. Passionate about dance, music, and theatre she writes regularly for the List, Across the Arts and Exeunt. She also wrote on dance, drama and whatever particular obsession she had that week for the Shimmy, the Skinny and TLG and has contributed to Mslexia, TYCI and the Vile Blog.

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