Ballet Theatre UK's Swan Lake. The Atkinson, Southport, 11 Dec 2014
I introduced readers to Ballet Theatre UK ("BTUK") when I reviewed their performance of The Little Mermaid in Southport (see "Pure Delight - BTUK's Little Mermaid in Southport" 27 April 2014). I wrote:
"BTUK is no ordinary company. It has a punishing schedule. Before coming to Southport it had danced a matinee and evening at Dunstable on the 22 April, an evening show at Tamworth on the 23, a matinee and evening at Keswick on the 24 and an evening at Runcorn on the 26. Today it crosses the Ribble to Blackpool and on 1 May it comes to Rotherham and then on Peterborough on the 2. I counted over 66 different venues throughout the British Isles. This show has quite elaborate scenery and props and sumptuous costumes. Bearing in mind that the dancers must find time for company classes, rehearsing their next production, eating and drinking, some kind of family and social life as well as travelling, I take my hat off to them."Last night BTUK returned to Southport to dance Swan Lake and I was in the audience to welcome them.
I have to start by saying that with the exception of Matthew Bourne's (see "Swan Lads - Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, Bradford Alhambra 4 March 2014" 5 March 2014) this was the most unusual Swan Lake that I have ever seen. It was very much shorter - two acts instead of the usual three or four. Different dancers danced Odette and Odile and in this version Odile turned out not to be all bad. Nobody gave Siegfried a bow. He simply got lost in the woods looking for Odette. Instead of cygnets there was a pas de quatre - that is to say two men and two women and not just four girls with arms linked in lock step. Siegfried and Odette already knew each other at the start of the ballet. We see Rothbart turn Odette into a swan so that he could offer Odile to Siegfried as a bride. Siegfried is not deceived by Odile's appearance but is influenced by the same sort of drug that Puck used to make Titania fall in love with a donkey in Midsummer Night's Dream. This was not the only balletic allusion that the choreographer, Christopher Moore, used. Odile wielded a sword just like Giselle in the mad scene before she plunges it into Rothbart's body. And there is a sword fight in Act II just as in Romeo and Juliet. Instead of the lovers plunging into the lake to break Rothbart's spell there is a happy ending which would have pleased Joseph Stalin.
Not everyone likes the reworking of this plot. Yesterday, one of the members of my ballet class warned me that BTUK "had murdered Swan Lake." When I asked her what she meant she replied that the music was still there "but precious little else." It is true that some important bits of the ballet are missing - most notably Legnani's 32 fouettés and the Venetian dance though the czardas and the Spanish dance survived - but the ballet still worked. In fact, I have to congratulate Moore on his adaptation of this ballet for the exigencies of touring.
If BTUK were a traditional company with principals, soloists, coryphées and corps it might have been possible to run the traditional version of Swan Lake but this is a touring company where all the dancers are of approximately the same age and experience and each of them is allowed a go at the leading roles. This production was engineered for a young company constantly on the move. Hence my nickname for them: "the Bedouin of Ballet".
My only criticism of the show is that BTUK never publish cast lists though they do sell a very glossy souvenir brochure for a fiver. Towards the back of the brochure there are biographies and thumbnail photos of the dancers. It is always difficult to recognize on stage faces in a programme because of the lighting and make-up but I was told by the programme seller I mentioned in my Little Mermaid review that Nathalie Cawte was Odette, Claire Corruble Odile, David Brewer Rothbart and Vincent Cabot Siegfried, They and indeed everybody in the company danced beautifully and deserve to be commended.
Tomorrow the company are performing in Cannock. They are spending the weekend in Warwick. Then on to Dorchester and Newbury before a well-earned Christmas break. This company is taking ballet to every nook and cranny of the British Isles introducung the art to new audiences just as Peter Brinson's Ballet for All did in the 1960s and 1970s. They all deserve our gratitude and there are many ways we can repay it through their support page.