Daring new version of Swan Lake was spellbinding and powerful

Swan Lake, performed by the Scottish Ballet.
Swan Lake, performed by the Scottish Ballet.

Swan Lake, Scottish Ballet, Theatre Royal Newcastle, Wednesday, May 11

Mesmerising, breathtaking and simply stunning - this was Scottish Ballet's Swan Lake. Choreographed by the award-winning David Dawson, this beautiful production was a visionary version of the classic tale.

Swan Lake, performed by Scottish Ballet.

Swan Lake, performed by Scottish Ballet.

This daring, contemporary take on one of ballet's most iconic productions captivated the audience at Newcastle's Theatre Royal on opening night, yesterday. It was ballet at its most stripped back. The minimalistic set, coupled with simplistic costumes, focused all of the attention on the excellent dancers and the dramatic tale.

Dawson's aim was to focus on the human side of the story and the universal themes of love and betrayal. And this 21st-century showing of Swan Lake did just that and in the most powerful of ways. Unlike the classic version, there was no magic here - in the sense that there was no terrible spell cast over the swans, nor the happy, enchanting ending which sees the two main characters die to break the curse, before ascending up to Heaven together and forever united in love. No, not this version. Yes, this imaginative retelling showed the beauty of falling in love, but on the flip side, it also demonstrated the despair of betrayal and its bitter consequences. It was an emotive, dark and bold take on this renowned ballet and it worked wonderfully.

The starkness of the stage helped to create the feel of being alone - just like the lead character Siegfried (Victor Zarallo) found himself at the start and the end of this memorable production. Yet at the same time, the simplistic, plain backdrop and the moody lighting gave a feel of tranquillity and serenity - as if almost in a dream. It created a sense of calm and still, as if by a lake at the dead of night with the mist rolling slowly across. To create such an atmosphere with such minimalistic staging was a triumph in itself.

Of course, the production was brought wonderfully to life by the talented Scottish Ballet dancers, who pushed the boundaries and fully embraced Dawson's daring vision for this contemporary Swan Lake. The set pieces were beautifully choreographed. The swans were delicate, gracious and glided over the stage, just like a bird skims serenely over the water. There was, in fact, a clear contrast, as Dawson evolved significant movement palettes - one for the human world and ones which were 'creature-based'. It was incredible how, through a series of movements, the dancers could hold themselves like birds, thus transforming themselves into swans. There were no feathers or wings needed - just the sheer beauty and pureness of dance.

Bethany Kingsley-Garner, who played the Swan Queen, Odette, as well as Odile, was mesmerising. She was gentle, yet powerful as Odette and sensual and seductive as Odile. Her relationship with the excellent and expressive Zarallo was dramatic, believable and engrossing and their final dance together brought a tear to the eye. Meanwhile, Nicholas Shoesmith (Benno) gave a solid display and it was a shame that he was not on the stage for longer periods of time - although in the context of the ballet, it is understandable why he wasn't; after all, this is Siegfried and Odette's story.

The on-stage drama was accompanied wonderfully by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra, which executed Tchaikovsky's classic score beautifully.

Swan Lake has become one of the all-time great classical ballets, performed throughout the world for almost 140 years. Dawson's version - in a darker, more human, more contemporary form - deserves to stand the test of time.

The performance duration is approximately two hours and 15 minutes, including a 20 minute interval. Swan Lake is on from tonight until Saturday. Tickets are from £14.50 and can be purchased online or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 (calls cost 7ppm plus your phone company’s access charge).

CAST: Bethany Kingsley-Garner, Victor Zarallo, Nicholas Shoesmith, Madeline Squire, Claire Souet, Constance Devernay, Daniela Oddi, Thomas Edwards, Rimbaud Patron, Jamiel Laurence, Eado Turgeman, Laura Joffre, Celine Le Grelle, Grace Horler, Marge Hendrick, Araminta Wraith, Constant Vigier, Javier Andreu. Conductor: Richard Honner, conducting the Scottish Ballet Orchestra.