RNZB’s production of Swan Lake – a Triumph of Balletic Tragedy

Swan Lake – a Ballet in Four Acts
Music – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Royal New Zealand Ballet with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Choreography – Russell Kerr, after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov

Conductor – Hamish McKeich
Staging – Turid Revfeim
Principal Coaching – Amber Scott
Lighting – Jon Buswell
Artistic Director – Ty King-Wall
Executive Director – Tobias Perkins

Odette/Odile – Kate Kadow
Siegfried – Branden Reiners
Rothbart – Joshua Guillemot Rodgerson
Jester – Timothy Ching
Princess Mother – Kirby Selchow
Wolfgang – Paul Matthews
Pas de Trois – Jennifer Ulloa, Dane Head, Cadence Barrack
Cygnets – Tessa Karle, Cadence Barrack, Monet Galea-Hewitt, Catarina Estevez Collins
Big Swans – Gretchen Steimle, Macy Cook
Spanish – Calum Gray, Jemima Scott, Laurynas Vejalis
Hungarian – Zacharie Dun, Hannah Thomson, Luke Cooper
Neapolitan – Levi Teachout, Ema Takahashi, Shaun James Kelly

St.James Theatre, Wellington,

Friday 3rd May 2024

Reviewed by Maya Field

I feel it’s very fitting that my debut onto the Middle-C scene is a review of a ballet, particularly Swan Lake. I’ve been in love with ballet since I was five years old, and I would go to RNZB productions with my mother as often as possible. Most of the classical music I listen to are ballets. It’s no wonder then, that I was so excited for last night’s performance of Swan Lake. I was not disappointed.

Aside from the crinkling of ice cream wrappers, the opening piece was beautiful, and opened to a sumptuous set of mossy trees and classical columns. The dancers were in restored costumes, originally designed by Kristian Fredrikson in 1996. The Corps de Ballet had beautiful unison, in perfect time with the orchestra. All dancers have a vital part, but frequent RNZB attendees will always notice dancers like Shaun James Kelly, who shines just as bright in the Corps as he does in solos. The Princess Mother (Kirby Selchow) was elegant, with even her walk and simple hand gestures displaying grace. The dynamic between the Jester (Timothy Ching) and Wolfgang (Paul Matthews) was very funny. Ching especially had amazing height and lightness to his leaps, and the audience was especially impressed with his turns. The Pas de Trois (Jennifer Ulloa, Dane Head, Cadence Barrack) were lovely, perfectly synchronised with each other. Their solos were lovely as well, with great energy and timing. The prince Siegfried (Branden Reiners) was also excellent. He felt truly alone and despondent to his coming of age, and his long, fluid movements never seemed to be totally still.

The Second Act was met with excitement, as the audience murmured and sat up straighter as the famous melody on the oboe began, and opened to the lake. Rothbert (Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson) was hawklike, and had excellent musicality. He truly moved with the orchestra. The Corps de Ballet of Swans had beautiful lines and unity, a real flock of swans. Kate Kadow as Odette, however, is nearly impossible to write about. She was so stunning that I forgot to take notes. I was absolutely entranced by her movement and characterisation. You simply cannot write how Kate Kadow dances.

The rest of Act 2 was also excellent. The Dance of the Swans was beautiful and synchronised. Carolyn Mills on the harp sounded beautiful. The Dance of the Cygnets, the iconic dance, was almost entirely synchronised, and was met with loud applause.

Act 3 was rich and ornate, with costumes of red, gold, black and green. Perfectly sumptuous. The Spanish, Hungarian and Neapolitan dances all had excellent energy and charm. Kate Kadow as Odile was just as perfect as her Odette. Before, she was shy, mournful, innocent, and elegant. Now, she is confident, alluring, and far more brazen, while still dancing with the same beautiful fluidity. The Pas de Deux between Odile and Siegfried was seductive – the strings felt sexy! There’s no other way to phrase it, I’m afraid. The Coda was just breathtaking. Kadow and Reiner’s fouettes and turns were incredible. Reiner really seemed to fly in this part, truly soaring as he believed he was in love with the right girl. The reveal that the girl was not Odette, but Odile, was brilliant, and there was a slight undercurrent of dread in the music as Siegfried swore fidelity to Odile. Rothbart’s cloak made amazing use as wings.

If Act 3 was the dramatic act, then Act 4 was the tragic act. The opening music was melancholic as the curtains opened on a distraught Odette in the middle of the lake. I remember the audience gasping at this. The timing with the music in this Act was excellent, with Siegfried and Odette’s embrace being perfectly in time, as well as their various lifts with the swell of music. As for the final Pas de Trois between Odette, Siegfried, and Rothbart – call me melodramatic, but I was happy that all three died! Rothbart was defeated, a moment which had great physicality from Guillemot-Rodgerson as he died, as well as the swans condemning him. Odette and Siegfried had to sacrifice themselves to defeat him, and after seeing a previous version where they appear to live ‘happily ever after,’ I was glad that the traditional ending of them dying was chosen. It’s a tragedy, after all. The final moment of dawn breaking on the swans was breathtaking – the orchestra felt like the sunrise.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the RNZB worked incredibly well together to bring justice to Tchaikovsky’s ballet. No section in the orchestra overpowered the other, and the orchestra didn’t overpower the dancers, nor did the dancers overtake the orchestra. It was all balanced perfectly.

When I imagined myself writing reviews, I thought I would be an eagle-nosed critic, able to pick apart the performance, finishing with a witty and brilliant line about art and music. Instead, I’m just writing “excellent,” and “lovely,” over and over again. I’m sure I know other words, it’s just that last night’s performance seems to have taken them from me.

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