Swan Lake, Edinburgh Festival Theatre

Balletic impressions of a Degas painting
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The Independent Culture

But this classic draws a crowd like no other, which is why Christopher Wheeldon was asked to create a Swan Lake for Pennsylvania Ballet's 40th anniversary.

A former Royal Ballet soloist, now resident choreographer at New York City Ballet, here Wheeldon sticks to his classical roots. In the wake of some radical reworkings, his version is quaintly traditional, with much of the Petipa/Ivanov choreography intact.

His innovation comes in delving into the backstage world of the dancers, as well as recreating the on-stage fantasy. The ballet opens in a hazy-hued dance studio, the dancers looking just like those in a Degas painting.

The company perform the first act as if in rehearsal, watched by their shadowy, top-hatted patron - another figure from Degas's canvases. It's when the principal dancer (Yury Yanowsky) rehearses his Prince Siegfried role alone that the fantasy/reality divide begins to blur, as he conjures up an image of the lake and its swan maidens.

Julie Diana's Odette appears as a delicate, quivering creature, with fluttering wings and an expression of tragic longing. By contrast, she attacks the Odile role with relish, cool and cruel and sharper in her movements. It is with almost smug satisfaction that she seduces the besotted Prince Siegfried, and when she teasingly takes her hand away from his in a triumphant balance, the poor Prince is beguiled.

It is these moments of high drama that are most gripping, with a great dynamic between the leading couple, buoyed by gutsy playing from the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio.

In between, there are lulls, even though Wheeldon slips a striptease and a cancan into Act III to liven things up. The corps fill the stage with pleasing geometry, although they have trouble making a convincing transformation from earthy dancing girls to ethereal swans.

In other parts, the dream/reality crossover works better. There's a nice parallel between the dancers controlled by their patron and the swans in the clutches of evil Von Rothbart, plus a witty touch when, on stage, the poster for the new production is revealed and it has Wheeldon's name emblazoned on it.

But the question remains: do we need another Swan Lake? Wheeldon's talent might be put to better use creating exciting new ballet, not rehashing an old one, but then, would it play to packed houses every night? Probably not.

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