Images from the London Coliseum production. Photos – Mark Senior

You can’t get more universal in the ballet world than Swan Lake. The tale of good versus evil, love and betrayal, punctuated with the demure artistry of female swans en masse, has been danced and re-fashioned for decades, yet it never goes out of fashion.

This touring version (creative team Elena Glurjidze and assistant Sara Knight) from The United Ukrainian Ballet retains a familiar, very classic feel, with traditional costumes, sets and formations. 

It’s not reinventing the wheel, rather perpetuating an important cultural heritage and proving that even a horrific war cannot destroy artistic legacy. There’s a grit and determination that drives the dancers, who, unusually for a ballet company, are diverse in sizes, heights, and even abilities. 

The performers come from a range of companies including National Opera Ukraine and Odessa Ballet Theater. This could explain the variety of physicalities and styles. The 70-strong company is currently based in Holland, at The Hague, living and training in the old conservatory building.

Even though the company is in its infancy, there’s a sense of community and cooperation within the performers, especially across the larger scenes, which sometimes over ran the Plenary stage (Swan Lake is generally a big production!).

On opening night, the principal roles were all well-danced, especially Kateryna Chebykina who really came alive as the black swan but was equally elegant in the softer role of Odette. Her arm ripples and long body lines accentuated a solid technical precision. 

Her Prince Siegfried, Oleksii Kniazkov, was a dashing principal, with a firm but not overstated presence while Pavlo Zurnadzhi clearly had a fun time with all the buoyant jumps and physical gaiety of the Jester. Oleksiy Grishun’s “baddie” Rothbart, with cape flying, had the required drama and sweeping shapes of the villain. 

While Act I, Scene I is heavy on exposition and somewhat burdened down with mime and histrionics, the ballet gets juicy with the arrival of the swans. These are always the “money” acts and their success lies in the unison and timing of the beautiful visual patterns and symmetry of the white-tutu ’ed ballerinas. Despite the limited space, these scenes, especially the famous cygnet sequence, remained the crowd pleasers and gave a chance for the corps de ballet to shine. 

It’s generally the swans and the multiple fouetté turns of the soloists that get the biggest cheers, but in this instance, the Ukrainian National Anthem at curtain call got the audience to their feet. The dancers sang, holding up Ukrainian flags with the words ‘make dance not war’ on them, suggesting this production is about a lot more than pretty steps in pointe shoes. It is a defiant act of survival – survival of an age-old ballet, an entire culture and life itself.

Event details

United Ukrainian Ballet presents
Swan Lake

Artistic director Igone de Jonge

Venue: Plenary Theatre | Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) 1 Convention Centre Pl, South Wharf VIC
Dates: 20 – 23 October 2022
Tickets: $79 – $199

Sydney Darling Harbour Theatre | Friday 28 to Sunday 30 October 2022
Adelaide Adelaide Festival Theatre | 10 to Sunday 13 November 2022

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