6 Apr 2024

Scottish Ballet - Swan Lake in Glasgow

Eight years on from the premiere and Scottish Ballet has brought back a tweaked version of its Swan Lake. Thoughts from Bruce Marriott and Vicky Pollard…

Roseanna Leney in publicity shot for Swan Lake. Photo © Mihaela Bodlovic.Roseanna Leney in publicity shot for Swan Lake. Photo © Mihaela Bodlovic.

Scottish Ballet
Swan Lake
5 April 2024, matinee
Glasgow, Theatre Royal

In trying to sum up David Dawson’s Swan Lake for Scottish Ballet I feel a bit like Vicky Pollard, Matt Lucas’ character in Little Britain, who couldn’t answer any question without descending into an utterly confusing stream of Yeah but no but yeah but no but yeah…” verbals.

Is this a Swan Lake, Vicky? Yeah but no but yeah…”. Is it really good, Vicky? Yeah but no but yeah…” You get the picture, and more or less any question you might have could get the same answer.

The Dawson Swan Lake premiered in 2016 and got a mix of surprised reviews for its radical take on one of the most cherished ballet plots. Out goes (the evil) Rothbart, the Queen, Tutor, princesses, tutus, national dances, rich courtly life and crossbows. And in comes a 21st setting with the narrative of an unhappy young man searching for purpose/love and a Swan Queen with attitude and agency rather than a victim of circumstance.

This revival has usefully tightened up the production, and the Act 1 party, which originally dragged terribly, now has a bit of snap and pace. It also has Evan Loudon as Siegfried, who beautifully conveys the role’s inner unhappiness; ultimately, it’s his journey that we follow and truly believe in. The ending, as he sees Odette and the swans slowly retreat, never to be seen again, is brilliantly conceived and devastatingly moving. Even Vicky would be brought to tears (and speechless!).

Also making her debut in the production was Roseanna Leney, part of a new generation of principals at Scottish Ballet and the lead in most publicity shots. And Leney certainly delivers on both the demanding choreography and the dramatics of the double role. She has the most beautiful hands and arms, and in the black Odile costume they are highlighted to become even more achingly expressive - no wonder Siegfried was besotted.

Shorn of extraneous characters, this is a Swan Lake that homes in on the lovers, and their duets are particularly memorable. Elsewhere, in various party scenes, the company gets to shine in Dawson’s emotional, stretched and flowing movement - there is nothing ugly here. But it’s movement drawn from the same palette as the leads, and the absence of very clearly defined roles (other than the two protagonists, plus Benno as the friend) can leave you unconnected to the story being told. And in a ballet normally known for lines and symmetry, the stage can sometimes feel somewhat random instead of theatrically considered and purposeful.

All up, I’m glad I’ve seen this Swan Lake again - with all the tweaks, it certainly looks a stronger work than it did eight years ago. Like Vicky, I’m still not sure if it is Swan Lake or not, but two strongly dramatic dancers excited me in finely expressive movement and the company were firing on all cylinders in support. This is good. (And you can shut up, now Vicky)