Scottish Ballet, Swan Lake, Review (2024)

Rating (out of 5)
Sophie Martin as Odile in Swan Lake (photo credit Andy Ross)
Show details
Scottish Ballet
David Dawson (choreography), John Oto (set design), Yumiko Takeshima (costume design), Pytr Iylich Tchaikovsky (music).
Sophie Martin (Odette/Odile), Bruno Micchiardi (Siegfried), Thomas Edwards (Benno). The Principals, soloists and artists of Scottish Ballet. Scottish Ballet Orchestra. Martin Yates (conductor).
Running time

Following the premiere in 2016,  this is a welcome revival of David Dawson’s modern, minimalist interpretation of Swan Lake, the much beloved classic Russian ballet.

“ I set choreographer David Dawson a challenge, to take an iconic work but refresh it to inspire dancers and audiences. Without the tutus, you see the craft of the steps, the physical and emotional effort. We see Siegfried, lost and vulnerable .. (and) the shape of immortal swans, fierce with wild instincts. ” Christopher Hampston, Scottish Ballet Artistic Director.

Through a shimmering gauze screen with geometric grids, akin to the Forth Bridge, the slate grey backdrop of curving lines is a shimmering abstract landscape of rolling hills and low valley.  Siegfried stands alone at the side, watching his friend Benno and guests enjoy music and dancing at a celebratory party; the men, in T shirts, jackets and jeggings, couple up with the girls, in soft floaty dresses, for a waltzing whirl neatly synchronised to Tchaikovsky’s original, (revised) score. 

Under the dim moonlight, Siegfried takes a walk around the lake where he is captivated by an ethereal figure, half woman- half swan. At first, Odette appears tentatively timid but then she arches her back, extends her arms with bent elbows like flapping wings, circling around to soar into his arms. He lifts up this wild, untamed creature, her crossed feet twitching, to capture her in an intense, close embrace. 

A lamentation of swans suddenly appears - dressed like their Queen in slinky white gossamer-lace lingerie - a flock of flowing arms, hook wrists, twisted necks in a wave of graceful movement with shapely silhouettes.  A final au revoir for Siegfried and Odette, presenting him with a keepsake, as the Queen and her swans fly off to vanish into the night. 

‘I wanted to emphasise the bird like quality, gliding on the water and taking flight. We are imitating nature. The torso is where the movement starts  .. so that the arms appear to grow from the spine, to lift, swoop and fly like birds.’ David Dawson, choreographer. 

In Act 2, Benno is hosting a formal Ball, the perfect occasion to show off a lively sequence of dance solos and duets, the women in colourful, shin-skimming frocks which billow out in high-kicking arabesques.  The Dance of the Cygnets is far removed from the step-by-step, arm-in-arm unison, as the four swans flutter across the stage in disjointed rhythm with a playful sense of artistic free expression. 

Siegfried is shocked to see ‘Odette’ here, dazzling in a black taffeta evening dress, but this is Odile, a taunting temptress with seductive smile and guile; he is totally enraptured as their tango-esque pas de deux sizzles with passion and dramatic intrigue.

Yumiko Takeshima’s couture echo the sharp diagrammatic and curvaceous lines of John Otto’s monochrome  set design, enhanced by soft misty, moody lighting.  While the women parade in glamorous dresses, Siegfried’s casual blue T shirt may seem practical but reveals perspiration underarm, chest and down the spine, which is not an attractive, fashionable look. 

Sophie Martin, (who created the role of Odette/Odile for the 2016 production) is simply exquisite to watch, her subtle, sleek, swan-like manner blending feminine fragility and fiery spirit.  As Siegfried, Bruno Micchiardi is a forlorn, lost soul of a man but as she flaunts and flirts as a femme fatale, he is emotionally brought alive and their sensual duets show an electrifying chemistry between them.  With a simplified storyline, dismissing all notion of supernatural spells and curses, is Odette a mere fantasy of Siegfried’s, finding the love of his life in this woman of his dreams? 

David Dawson has taken the central themes of love, trust, betrayal, heartbreak and betrayal to create this daring, distilled, deconstructed vision of Swan Lake as a stylised, serene dance-drama.  The cool, neo-classical choreography is vividly and vivaciously imaginative yet preserves the rich romanticism and dramatic backbone of the traditional narrative.  Performed by the Scottish Ballet principals and artists with elegance and precision, this is a poignant, poetic love story for today. 

Tour dates:

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

4 – 6 April 2024

His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen

18 – 20 April 2024

Eden Court, Inverness

26 – 27 April 2024

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

2 – 4 May 2024