London Coliseum, London, UK; April 10, 2014
Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo are infrequent visitors to London and the announcement of a short season with a new take on “Swan Lake” was an intriguing although high-risk prospect for London ballet lovers. I also noted that Director and choreographer, Jean-Christophe Maillot, had helpfully retitled his ballet, “LAC”. While it is fine to create a re-imagining of a traditional work, it’s a shame if use of the original title misleads people into thinking they will see a version of the familiar production.
Maillot worked with novelist, Jean Rouaud, to create a narrative related to the original, but differing in a variety of ways. The ballet opens with a black and white stylised video of a royal picnic interrupted by a woman dressed in black who kidnaps the young Princess, leaving a forlorn Princeling friend. The narrative then takes to the stage and jumps forward some 15 years where we meet the macho King and the Prince (Lucien Postlewaite). The latter seems much closer emotionally to the golden Queen, but his Father is determined to make a man of him. The ball comes early, with hunters, friends and potential brides for the Prince. Maillot mixes contemporary movement with neo-classical ballet, with no shortage of pointe work.
At this stage, we had seen much running about and licentious behaviour from the potential brides – a distinctive approach certainly, but the jury was still out on the production. Then, the Queen of the Night (April Ball) – a revitalised Rothbart – enters the scene with two close attendants and her daughter, the Black Swan, and the ballet erupts into life. It often seems that the bad girls get all the best steps and “LAC” reinforces that proposition. With undisguised menace from Ball and her attendants, and aggressive energy and attack from the Black Swan (Noelani Pantastico), who quickly entrances the Prince, memories of his lost childhood sweetheart come back to haunt him as Act I closes.
Act II sees the Prince in a forest against a background of looming, stark rocks. He meets the White Swan (Anjara Ballesteros), a prisoner of the Queen of the Night. The duets for him and his childhood sweetheart are touching and Maillot continues his knack of using choreography to mark out character not just making pretty steps and patterns. However, the Queen of the Night quickly puts a stop to the romance, although given the beauty of Ballesteros’ solo dancing and the couple’s expressive duets, I would like to have seen this aspect of the production expanded.
There is a corps of white swans with Maillot imaginatively bringing them onto the stage backwards as if shaking off any link with tradition. These birds are agents of the Queen of the Night and the White Swan gets no support from them.
We return to the court and the White Swan seems to reappear and is married to the Prince, who then discovers he has been deceived as his bride is the Black Swan in disguise. He rushes off to find his true love and the angry golden Queen kills the Black Swan. The ballet ends with the two lovers dying, the vengeful Queen of the Night triumphant and a magnificent huge swirling cape taking the dead lovers away. Maillot is clearly not a sentimentalist.
The Ballets de Monte-Carlo dancers are magnificent throughout, projecting character as well as high performance standards. In the supporting roles, Gabrielle Corrado, as the King dances with great power and élan and Mi Deng as his the golden Queen is always elegant and polished. The spare set suits the drama and allows plenty of space for the dance. The costumes by Philippe Guillotel are magnificent. Recorded music is never ideal, but the Coliseum sound system provided a level of sound quality that didn’t distract from the action.
If you want Tchaikovsky’s score in the usual order and the other traditional elements, then “LAC” is not for you. However, if you want an imaginative, forceful and succinct re-imagining with effective choreography danced to high standards and excellent production values, then it is certainly worth trying.