BWW Review: Shanghai Ballet Brings SWAN LAKE Back to Melbourne at Regent Theatre
Known the world over, Shanghai Ballet presenting Derek Deane's vision of the timeless tale of Swan Lake was bound to be an experience. Boasting over 80 dancers on the classic Regent Theatre stage, and 48 swans for the famous sequence, Swan Lake was every bit the beautiful tale you know, in bursting colour and exotic romance.
The vision of Swan Lake seemed to be built from the soaring talent of guest performer Ako Kondo in the role of Odette. Her performance was certainly the strength from which everything else pivoted. Kondo claimed the role with consistency and confidence, showing a marked but finessed transition into Odile, an important display of how important character can be in productions more familiar to an audience. Much of the ensemble had the presence, but the characters lacked soul or passion. Opposite Kondo, Wu Husheng as Prince Siegfried led the production subliminally, where other performers in the role have been notorious for detracting. Husheng's dancing talent blossomed along the trajectory of the narrative, which lent itself to a sense of flow.
Shanghai Ballet's reputation precedes them for choreographic clarity, jaw-dropping syncing and rich visuals. Unfortunately for an opening night, nerves were glaringly obvious and impacted the performance. Missed cues among the swans, ensemble pairs bumping into each other, principals phoning in lifts and leaps spattered the performance. To boot, the Regent Theatre sound system did all too good a job: a very clear sound of tracks being paused and skipped on a backing cd compromised the quality and made for awkward transitions between sections. The decision to use a backing track over an orchestra may be more cost-effective, but the impact on the experience was incomparable: every squeak and thud on the stage could be heard over Tchaikovsky's beautiful score. The lockout promised was not in effect, with audience members coming and going throughout which cannot be underestimated for disrupting the energy in the space.
Swan Lake was a victim of what threatens every production, no matter how professional or prepared: a weak start. Opening night nerves, exacerbated by sound issues, a restless audience and a few innocent mistakes, did give way to a much stronger middle and end to the performance. Bearing in mind the current commentary on the validity of ballet in contemporary cultural climates, with particular reference to the alarming body types enforced (certainly common in this cohort) and mental pressures, Swan Lake is a classic tale that still deserves an audience. Our expectations are changing, and hopefully productions like this warrant deeper resonance.
What cannot be questioned about this production, as well as the talent of principal performers and choreographers the likes of which are attracted by the incredible standard set by Shanghai Ballet, was the visual spectacle delivered. Not only with the swans, but the sets designed Cao Canlin and Xu Zhige provided much depth and richness to the action. Song Liang and Liu Li's costumes were finely detailed and worked well to give a sense of weight, but flew as strongly as each dancer. In this, Swan Lake is sure to delight audience members of any walk of life.
Tickets available here.