Australian politics, society & culture

Ballet Masterpiece

Graeme Murphy - 'Swan Lake', 2002

Jill Sykes

Short read200 words
Cover: October 2011
October 2011
Rolf de Heer - 'The Tracker', 2002
Adrian Martin
Chris Lilley - 'Summer Heights High', 2007
Marieke Hardy
Tanja Liedtke - 'construct', 2007
Deborah Jones
An Australian–Indonesian production - 'The Theft of Sita', 2000
Robyn Archer
Art Gallery of NSW - 24 September 2011 to 5 February 2012
Sebastian Smee
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Gail Jones
Justin Hamilton - 'Circular', 2011
Tim Ferguson
Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Like Shakespeare’s plays, great ballets get their makeovers by the score all over the world – except that Shakespeare’s words are (mostly) left intact and the choreography of the classic ballets is (mostly) discarded. Cleverly, Graeme Murphy and his collaborators, Janet Vernon and designer Kristian Fredrikson, combined old and new to the familiar music by Tchaikovsky, slightly re-organised, for the Australian Ballet. The iconic sequences of massed swans were retained, but the story was told afresh in choreography that has classical bones but contemporary reach, dynamism and plasticity.

The classic Petipa–Ivanov Swan Lake was first performed in St Petersburg in 1895. It revolves around a prince whose duty is to marry but he can’t find a suitable girl. (Does this remind you of a certain British royal?) Murphy’s characters are, of course, deemed to be fictitious, but there are many familiar references that bring this Swan Lake closer to home than the imperial Russian original. It is still about good and evil, love, deceit, power, transformations of different kinds – more psychological than magical this time – but told in contemporary dance language that is clear, touching and exhilarating.

—Jill Sykes