Dance review: Scottish Ballet's Swan Lake, Theatre Royal, Glasgow

THE CURTAIN rises and falls on Siegfried standing alone, a young man struggling to find his place in the world. In the intervening two hours, he has experienced the euphoric high and devastating low of love and loss, just as most people in the audience will have.

The bare set was one of the few minuses in a show that wont disappoint. Picture: John Devlin
The bare set was one of the few minuses in a show that wont disappoint. Picture: John Devlin

Scottish Ballet: Swan Lake | Rating: **** | Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Which is exactly what choreographer David Dawson set out to do – create a story we can all relate to. Hardly something Swan Lake is known for, with its evil spells, transmogriphying swans and royal characters. But, over 20 years since Scottish Ballet last staged a production of the world’s most popular ballet, this brand new version is here to shake things up a bit.

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Dawson has kept a few key elements, including Tchaikovsky’s incredible score, played exquisitely by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra; and the central storyline of boy meets otherworldly girl, accidentally cheats on her with a doppelganger, boy loses girl. That aside, little of the traditional Swan Lake remains – which is both a good and bad thing.

On the plus side, Dawson’s actual steps are highly energised and engaging. His quick-footed movement gives the search for love a youthful urgency. Arms take on wing-like qualities, both at the palace parties and by the lakeside, cleverly linking the two worlds.

In the dual roles of Odette and Odile, Sophie Martin is a tiny powerhouse of muscular dynamism. Floating ethereally as the loving but strong-minded Odette, then feisty and duplicitous as the black-clad Odile. It’s easy to see how Siegfried (played here with dramatic integrity by Christopher Harrison) falls head over heels in love with them both.

Where the production disappoints is in the relentless back-slapping, egging on and general meandering of the opening scene. Likewise, the bare set and even barer costumes (skimpy white leotards for the swans) leaves the formally magical “big white” scenes Swan Lake is famous for feeling a little bland in the first half.

Fortunately, all is forgiven in Act Two, which is chock full of action. When black swan Odile and her four henchmen arrive, you can feel the whole theatre sit up with excitement. The lakeside scene is beautifully structured, and the closing pas de deux drenched in longing.

This may be the first Swan Lake that hasn’t made me cry, but Dawson’s choreography and Scottish Ballet’s delivery still combine to make this a production to remember.

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• Ends Saturday, then touring