FROM the opening trumpet call of the national anthems to the final celebratory fall of the ticker tape, Swan Lake held its audience captivated.

The story is classic fairytale: Prince Siegfried must marry if he is to become king, but the only girl he’s interested in lives in a lake, cursed by the evil Sorcerer von Rothbart to be a swan by day, changing into a Princess only at night. The Prince and Princess swear undying love but, as the moon sets and light creeps in, you just know the road isn’t going to be easy.

The American Ballet Theatre have kept this production close to its roots, but their performance showcased their company’s reputation for innovation and excitement. The dancers clearly enjoyed performing, using the choreography from the company’s artistic director Kevin McKenzie to turn their costumes into a riot of colour, with so much happening on the stage it was hard to know where to look.

The story pivoted between exuberant crowd scenes and the intimate pairing of Cory Stearns as Siegfried, and Hee Seo as Princess Odette, who stole the show. Her face pleaded her predicament, her body twisting and twirling as she sought to be free, only to flutter her arms to become a swan again. Odette also had time to reflect in that most iconic of ballet scenes, the dance of the swans, with shimmering white tutus and gentle clapping of feet on the stage inviting onlookers to marvel at their grace and precision.

This was also a production that jumped out at its audience. When the dry-ice lake billowed into the orchestra pit, the musicians of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra laughed and carried on as their instruments became enveloped in mist. Their music swooped out. Because Tchaikovsky’s score is so familiar it’s good to be reminded how fresh it can sound when matched with the dance moves that tell its story.

And there is no story without drama. As von Rothbart, in disguise, successfully convinces Siegfried to marry his daughter Odile — also played by Seo, switching effortlessly to malevolence in her black swan costume — Siegfried realises he is both betrayed and the betrayer.

If you’ve never seen a ballet production before, Swan Lake is a great place to start. It’s both love story and tragedy, embedded in our cultural consciousness through countless retellings. If you’re already familiar with the production then the American Ballet Theatre’s interpretation — expertly paired with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra — will satisfy any craving for accomplished choreography from dancers in a company considered a national treasure.

The only difficulty might come afterwards: once you’ve seen this production, it’s going to be a long time before something comparable might come along and take its place as favourite.

The reviewer was a guest of QPAC and the American Ballet Theatre at the opening night performance on Thursday, August 29.

Visit or phone 136 246 for details on upcoming American Ballet Theatre shows.

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