Australian Ballet: Swan Lake, Coliseum, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

More swans, and a different lake. For their first British visit in 12 years, the Australian Ballet has brought a revisionist Swan Lake. Graeme Murphy's production sets the ballet at an Edwardian court, and arranges his story around a royal wedding with three of them in that marriage. The company is very likeable, but the ballet has lost heart and plot.

We see the prince falling into bed with Baroness von Rothbart. Cut to a sunny garden party, Prince Siegfried and his bride Odette smiling and waving to the guests. Odette works out that her husband is still involved with Rothbart, crumples, flings herself at all the male guests and is carted off to a sanatorium, where she is tended by nuns in giant wimples and has a fit of melodrama in the bath.

It takes a lot of mime to get through this. Murphy has rechoreographed the ballet, leaving a few echoes of the traditional Petipa/ Ivanov steps.

The lake scenes are all in Odette's mind, a retreat from reality. At the palace, Rothbart holds a party to celebrate. Then Odette turns up, mysterious and elegant, and Siegfried falls for her. Rothbart rages and summons the nuns to take her back to the sanatorium. The prince follows Odette, but she retreats with her swans into - what? Death? Insanity?

In tinkering with Swan Lake, Murphy keeps the swans but writes out any need for them. Why should Odette dream of swans in her sanatorium? Because this is Swan Lake; because we have to get the corps de ballet in somehow. But the lake scenes are no longer the heart of the story. The plot is all going on elsewhere, and the swans are reduced to decoration.

They still take up half the ballet. Murphy's choreography is never musical, and in the lake scenes he has to cope with acres of marvellous Tchaikovsky. In the last act, his plot grates against the score. Siegfried and Odette have happy-ever-after dances to crisis music, then start suffering during the serene apotheosis.

Kristian Fredrikson's designs are striking and fluent. The ballet's best image is Odette in her wedding dress, her satin train billowing out as she waltzes.

Dancing is fresh and direct, without prissiness or strain. Steven Heathcote, sturdily built, tries to put some lyricism into Murphy's Siegfried. Madeleine Eastoe is a lyrical Odette, and Lynette Wills makes a surprisingly sympathetic Rothbart. Nicolette Fraillon conducts a lively account of the reordered score.