A Swan Lake formation of tutu-wearing female dancers is the image that most frequently comes to mind when you mention classical ballet. And Tchaikovsky’s swelling score is the typical sound that features in the mind’s ear. Children learning ballet are introduced to this totemic ideal early on; it is the graceful ideal to strive for.
irst produced in 1877 in the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and constantly revived all over the world, Swan Lake has a particular resonance at this moment in time. It has been broadcast on state TV in Russia during times of political trauma, including as a place filler during the coup of 1991 that fuelled the break-up of the USSR.
With the current war in Ukraine, this touring Estonian National Ballet production says of the Russian composer’s work: Swan Lake belongs to the world.
And this is a lovely production, with a stunning prima ballerina in Ami Morita. As Odette, the princess condemned by an evil sorcerer to live as a swan, her gracefulness embodies a deep, depressive sadness. As Odile, the sorcerer’s daughter, she is all glittering-eyed virtuoso. Michal Krčmář is a tall, athletic Prince Siegfried, like a gallant rescuer from a storybook.
The costumes are sumptuous, with acres of chiffon and tulle put to good work. The colourful court scenes, all soft pastels and warm lighting, contrast with the austere dark lakeside scenes, full of melancholy, yearning and fluttering swans. The mood creation is just perfect.
This is the Estonian National Ballet’s first visit to Ireland, and it fills a gap in programming that was created when Russia’s St Petersburg Ballet tour was cancelled last March, just after the start of the war.
There is always a whiff of fascism off classical ballet: the perfection and uniformity of the dancers’ bodies; the almost military ensemble co-ordination; the timing that mercilessly exposes the tiniest flaw. Right now, we want the serried ranks of swans to be plucky Estonians, rather than globe-hopping Russians.
But you can easily forget that geopolitical stuff; just sit back and feast your eyes on the graceful dance and absorb the live orchestral music. Escapist art serves a cheering purpose, underlined here by the use of the happy ending.
We all know there is an alternative tragic ending, but right now, who wants that?
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