|Tchaikovsky Trilogy – Swan Lake, Peter Schaufuss Ballet, London Coliseum, review|
|Written by news desk - telegraph.co.uk|
Not even the leonine presence of Irek Mukhamedov can save this truly awful production of Swan Lake
By some reckonings, a choreographer billing his own show as “A Nightmare” is a little on the rash side. And so it proves this week, at the Coliseum.
A few weeks ago, in the run-up to the UK premiere of Peter Schaufuss Ballet’s 1997 Tchaikovsky Trilogy, I had charming exchanges with Schaufuss himself, the mighty Royal Ballet alumnus Irek Mukhamedov (semi-retired from performance, but returning to London after eight years away) and young star Alban Lendorf (on loan from the Royal Danish Ballet). As a result, I was particularly hoping to like this production – but, with the best will in the world, the opening piece, Swan Lake, turns out to be just frightful.
Here’s what this extraordinary ballet, in the right hands, can yield. Beauty: in the moonlit sets, in Lev Ivanov’s rippling rows of swans, in Tchaikovsky’s game-changing score surging live from the pit. Pathos: in Prince Siegfried’s and the swan princess’s twin predicaments and elegantly burgeoning romance. Drama: in the struggle between good and evil, head and heart, life and death. All three, in Ivanov and Marius Petipa’s soaring pas de deux.
What we get here, instead, is no inspired Matthew Bourne-style reimagining, but instead a two-act version of the tale as eviscerated and confused-looking as an inexpertly stuffed cat. The “set” – a huge, semi-reflective panel that lines the back of a stage – muddles the action and even looks in need of a good polish. The lighting is coarse, and, while the swans’ Lycra costumes are pure mid-Eightes ice-dance, the two jesters’ somehow fuse Donnie Darko’s satanic rabbit and Pulp Fiction’s put-upon gimp.
Ice-rinks loom large, in fact – in the splashy reverb of the pre-recorded Tchaikovsky, still more so in the Swan Girl's flat-footed sweeps of the leg, presumably designed to mimic the action of brushing the water’s surface, but looking like some sort of figure-skating parody. Beyond parody, though, are all the pas de deux and most of the ensembles for the swans, with the four cygnets getting a particularly raw deal (part Riverdance, part Carry on up the Nile, all awful).
As for the plot, this is contorted in all sorts of ways to provide a new narrative framework for the three ballets. The (traditionally Act 3) ballroom scene is a total mess, virtually relegating Siegfried and the Black Swan to the sidelines. And try this, from the close of the synopsis: “Siegfried tries to follow the Swans but drops with exhaustion on to” – wait for it – “the couch.”
The couch? The lovelorn prince, at this point, is supposed to be hurling himself into the lake in a Romantic bid for eternal bliss with his true love in the afterlife, not poncing about on soft furnishings. Lendorf is a very fine performer, the 52-year-old Mukhamedov, as the wicked sorcerer Rothbart, is as dramatic and magnetic a presence as ever (if criminally underused), and there are flashes of decent dancing elsewhere. But, with a concept and steps this flawed, no one ever stood a chance.
A nightmare indeed.