The United Ukrainian Ballet’s stunning production of Swan Lake is only trumped by the spine-tingling moments after the final bars of Tchaikovsky’s majestic score ring out. That is when the company takes to the stage to rapturous applause. They carry with them the bicolour blue and yellow Ukrainian flag, which bares the line “make dance not war” as the Ukrainian national anthem plays. To say it is deeply emotional is to sell it short. I am tearing up just thinking about it. It was a privilege to be in the room.
Informed by Russian and German folk tales, Swan Lake is the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by evil sorcerer Baron von Rothbart’s curse. Prince Siegfried is on a hunting trip when he first encounters and falls in love with Odette, who can only take human form between midnight and daybreak. Composed by Russian composer Tchaikovsky, Swan Lake was first performed by the Bolshoi Ballet in 1877. It is arguably the most popular and beloved ballet of all time.
The United Ukrainian Ballet brings together award-winning dancers from Ukraine’s finest ballet houses and comes to us directly from the London Coliseum. Based in the Netherlands, the company was formed with the support of local businesses and the Dutch government after Ukrainian dancers fled their homeland.
Their performance was magnificent … electrifying and incredibly edifying. The statuesque command of Kateryna Chebykina as Odette and the muscularity and athleticism of Oleksii Kniazkov as Prince Siegried is a compelling combination. Pavlo Zurnadzhi is dexterous and light on his feet as the delightful court jester. Complete with spectacular, predominantly black costuming and a closely cropped beard, Oleksiy Grishun is deliciously menacing as the black swan, Rothbart. Symbiotic is a term most appropriate for the Corps de Ballet, whose synchronised movements captivate and enchant.
The music is stunning. Every time I hear it, I want to do so again, including, notably, The Dance of the Cygnets and the Waltz in Act I. My enthusiasm knows no bounds. I already referenced the costuming when speaking of the darkness surrounding Rothbart. Beyond that, creativity comes to the fore in the sumptuous third act, with a rich green and gold set and striking gold accented ensemble worn by the leads.
The United Ukrainian Ballet’s Swan Lake is a masterful and regal treat. It is playing at the Plenary, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre until 23rd October. Next stop is Darling Harbour Theatre is Sydney from 28th October to 5th November. Then, it is on to Adelaide Festival Theatre from 9th to 13th November, 2022. To support Ukrainian artists and help in the future rebuild of the country’s cultural heritage, a portion of each ticket sold will be donated to The United Ukrainian Ballet Foundation.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Swan Lake (St Petersburg Ballet Theatre) – theatre review
- Swan Lake (The Australian Ballet) – touring
- Shanghai Ballet’s Swan Lake (Regent) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.