The United Kingdom’s prestigious The Royal Ballet Company presented everything that rings true in treating a timeless tale as legendary as Swan Lake: it needs to be royally grand in terms of staging, it needs to be emotionally engaging to keep audience seated for 165 minutes, and it needs to be magical to make audience keep humming Tchaikovsky’s delicately crafted tunes long after the show ends. Such impossible tasks were embarked effortlessly by the 90-strong troupe highly respected as one of the most sought-after ballet companies in the world. Staged as part of Singapore Arts Festival 2005, it was hardly any surprise to find most of tickets had been snapped up months earlier leading to the three-night only presentation.
On Friday night, 24 June 2005, the 2,000-seats of Esplanade Theatre, Singapore, became a witness of dazzling spectacle set in the late 19th-century Russia, where a prince by the name of Siegfried is having a coming-of-age party, and the eventful occasion turns to be a more delightful one when he encounters a flock of swans, and decidedly ends the festivities with a hunt on a deserted lakeside by ruins of a chapel. Little does he know that the lake is an enchanted place where the Swan Princess Odette lives together with her fellow victims of Von Rothbart, an evil magician who turns them into swans by day, yet they can return to the form of human beings by night. The lake itself is a lake of tears shed by Odette’s mother over the suffering of her daughter’s fated destiny. However, this cursed spell can be broken only when someone who has never loved before, will pledge and sacrifice his eternity to Odette.
Knowing that Siegfried will take more than anything to rescue and prove his love to Odette, Von Rothbart does a dirty trick by transforming his own daughter, Odile, into bearing a similar physical resemblance to Odette. The prince dances with Odile, whom he mistakenly assumes as Odette, at the kingdom’s ball, and captivated by her beauty, he proposes to her in front of the royal court. When the royal family accepts his initiative, Von Rothbart begins to reveal the truest layer of his plan, leaving Siegfried disappointed and hurrying down to the lake in search of Odette.
Hearing the heart-wrenching news, the real Odette decides to face death by perishing herself in the waves of the lake, so as to free herself from the evil power. Siegfried pursues Odette there, while Von Rothbart who insists him on marrying Odile threatens him. Not wanting to leave Odette being a swan forever if he marries Odile, Siegfried decides to be united with Odette in death. Von Rothbart and his power fall, the swan maidens are freed and the lake will linger in memory as a witness of star crossed lovers.
Under the guidance of conductor Valery Ovsyanikov with the strong support from Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra, the audience was transported to the fantasy world divided in four equally elegant acts: Act I on the initial party celebrating Prince Siegfried’s coming of age, Act II lays the lake where the swans flock to the spotlight, Act III presents the dazzling colors of costume ball, and the final act IV revolves around the lake to resolute the lovers’ destiny. These acts are conceived and brought to the audience eloquently in enviable stage and costume designs meticulously conceptualized and gorgeously presented in Faberge inspired style by the designer Yolanda Sonnabend, as if to enhance the truest quality the ballet company has in store to bring the tale lively on a grand scale performance. The bare proscenium arch stage of Esplanade Theatre could not be more fitting to accommodate the extravaganza set which draws disbelief sighs often heard among audience in seeing how the stage is imbued within the ballerinas’ elastic movements that deserve numerous applause throughout the show. Whereas it may be impossible to place a certain divided notion among each and every dancer performed on the night, it is inevitable not to praise Roberta Marquez and Johan Kobborg, as Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried respectively, in carrying their roles with graceful and irresistible presence.
For sure, the troupe has done a testament that will leave Marius Petipa, the initial choreographer, feeling proud of the work he had started more than nine decades ago.
The timeless beauty will remain eternally beauty as it is meant to be.