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Swan Lake: New Production Ideas!


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I'm listening to the music from Swan Lake while at work, looking out of the window (when I should be working) and thinking about how I would do Swan Lake...which has led me to wonder...

 

...If you were given Liam Scarlett's new task of creating a brand new Swan Lake what would you do/how would you do it? Which dancers would you premiere with? What types of costumes would you do? Would you keep the current story or turn it into something completely new? etc

 

Please indulge me in some light-hearted creative thinking!

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Interesting musings, TTP!  I think Swan Lake is like Shakespeare:  in the right hands, it can be transposed to any time, and with any kind of costumes or messing about with sequence and score....IF it is done by the right choreographer and designer.  Examples that I think were highly successful in achieving great things with a completely different version are Bourne's and Australian Ballet's, the one they brought here during the summer.  It deeply impressed and affected me, so it shows that a non-traditional version can work just as well.

 

Having said this....I think that if I were Scarlett I would leave the more 'funky' versions for other companies.  As one of the world's flagship caretakers of the classical repertoire, I strongly feel that they shouldn't mess with Swan Lake.  I am one of those people who really liked Dowell's version, especially the choreographic idiom that was kept.  OK, some of Yolanda Sonnabend's design was a bit over-fussy, but I loved the costumes, including the soft swan tutus.  So in Scarlett's place, I wouldn't stray too much from what they already have, choreography-wise.  One thing I feel very strongly about is that he must keep the mime.  The narrative makes soooo much more sense with it kept in.  As far as 'keeping it classical' is concerned, everybody could learn a thing or two from BRB's version, which has a very clear and sensible narrative, is beautifully costumed and choreographed and makes one want to go back and see it again and again.  

 

As far as who I would premiere it with.  Hmmmm.  I guess it depends on what has been done to the choreography and where in time it is being set.  I would be tempted, with a brand new version, to premiere it with some of the younger generation, whom we wouldn't have seen in the main roles yet.  By the time the new SL gets its premiere in 2018, I would think that Hayward, Naghdi, Stix-Brunell and maybe one or two others will be ready to tackle The Swan.  As far as her prince is concerned, I would be looking at Matthew Ball and Reece Clarke, and on current form, Valentino Zucchetti.  If he would rather stick to the current crop of principals, I would premiere with Lauren Cuthbertson or Marianela Nunez in this particular role, with Vadim Muntagirov as my first choice prince.  Second would be Federico Bonnelli.

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Having said this....I think that if I were Scarlett I would leave the more 'funky' versions for other companies.  As one of the world's flagship caretakers of the classical repertoire, I strongly feel that they shouldn't mess with Swan Lake.  I am one of those people who really liked Dowell's version, especially the choreographic idiom that was kept.  OK, some of Yolanda Sonnabend's design was a bit over-fussy, but I loved the costumes, including the soft swan tutus.  So in Scarlett's place, I wouldn't stray too much from what they already have, choreography-wise.  One thing I feel very strongly about is that he must keep the mime.  The narrative makes soooo much more sense with it kept in.  As far as 'keeping it classical' is concerned, everybody could learn a thing or two from BRB's version, which has a very clear and sensible narrative, is beautifully costumed and choreographed and makes one want to go back and see it again and again.  

 

 

 

Thank you Sim for the confirmation. I also am one who really liked Dowell's Production and I totally endorse these comments!

Edited by David
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...........,   I think Swan Lake is like Shakespeare:  in the right hands, it can be transposed to any time, and with any kind of costumes or messing about with sequence and score....IF it is done by the right choreographer and designer.  Examples that I think were highly successful in achieving great things with a completely different version are Bourne's and Australian Ballet's, the one they brought here during the summer.  It deeply impressed and affected me, so it shows that a non-traditional version can work just as well.

 

Having said this....I think that if I were Scarlett I would leave the more 'funky' versions for other companies.  As one of the world's flagship caretakers of the classical repertoire, I strongly feel that they shouldn't mess with Swan Lake.  I am one of those people who really liked Dowell's version, especially the choreographic idiom that was kept.  .......................

I strongly agree though I would say that I liked David Dawson's Swan Lake for Scottish Ballet which I saw in Liverpool earlier this year. In fact I liked it a lot better than the Australian Ballet's or indeed the Bolshoi's though I also saw merit in those works.

 

I think that the Royal Ballet should look to its tradition and build on  its previous productions. There's no need for rewriting the plot or adding gimmicks. New designs maybe. Any new choreography that may be added should serve a dramatic purpose.

 

On a tangent I am looking forward to the Norwegian Ballet's version by Alexander Ekman where the dancers are several inches under water in Paris at the end of March.  I don't generally take kindly to change for change's sake but the video looks like it could be fun.

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I think that Scarlett will have a brief to keep the new production firmly classical in terms of both the story and the choreography. SL is a money spinner and the RB can't afford to alienate its audience with something 'way out'. It's a tough commission for Scarlett. He will obviously want to stamp his own personality on the new production but will probably feel quite constrained. Both ENB and BRB have very nice traditional versions of SL which keep both audiences and critics happy. There doesn't seem to be a lot of scope to deviate much from these two productions which are quite similar.

 

I don't think that we'll be seeing Siegfried in a psychiatric hospital suffering delusions of marrying a swan who is actually a woman in disguise or a Siegfried, confused about his sexuality, torn between a man and a woman (perhaps these things have already been done).

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As what people thought Scarlett should/shouldn't do with his new production has been discussed fairly extensively elsewhere, perhaps we could extend this discussion beyond the Royal Ballet to other classically-based companies as well?

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I think Swan Lake is like Shakespeare:  in the right hands, it can be transposed to any time, and with any kind of costumes or messing about with sequence ....

 

 

Can I just say that over the years I have seen some dreadful regietheater shakespearian productions that completely lose sight of the text and original intention.

 

I am finding the main thrust of the comments here very reassuring!!!!!

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Well, Michael Keegan-Dolan is bringing his radical reimagining of SL to the Wells later this year. I'm not sure whether to risk it!

Much to my surprise I loved his Giselle so I will risk it...but with a cheap ticket!

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I frankly find it amazing that he is making something new when there are still many, many open questions about the way he dealt with Frankenstein in terms of his aims, and especially about issue with the execution of the piece.

 

I think the best thing he could do would be to change the Swans to Ducks, and put a big target around his neck and on all of the dancers. Give cork pop guns to all of the audience members, and critics to fire at them all....He can call it 'Duck Hunt'.

 

I think that the 'powers that be' that were questioned after Frankenstein, as well as Mr Scarlett himself are putting themselves up to an impossible task. I think Mr Scarlett has talent to be shaped and to make a great career, but Swan Lake has been done a thousand times, with a thousand different styles and results, and everyone has their favourite.  Ratmansky said that he would never try to take on a new Swan Lake version (with his reconstruction in Zurich) he said wisely that he couldn't add anything to the versions.

 

It could however be the making of Mr Scarlett if he is hugely inspired and has the support artistically and for execution of the premise. Duck Hunt or Swan Lake? I think the open questions from the Frankenstein need to be addressed though.

 

Otherwise will we see Carlos Acosta Making a new Don Q too?

Edited by SwissBalletFan
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It could be interesting to see the swans being more aggressive to reflect their real nature. I loved that with the Australian Ballet's version - they were fiercely protective over Odette and there was some pecking and aggression towards Siegfried. I think Bourne's version does something similar. Obviously this isn't very classical but it could be fun to have something more realistic!

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It's interesting to think about new costumes - although I love the aesthetic of the classical version, the costumes actually annoy me somewhat in the narrative because they're so over-the-top, they don't really make that much sense. "Who's this man with the huge, evil-looking cloak, and the black make-up, and the scary staff-thing? He seems like a fine, upstanding member of society, I'm so glad he's at this ball. Nothing could possibly go wrong here." And Odile in black, too - I'd like to see a very realistic production in terms of costumes, where the characters and audience can be fooled. Put Odette/Odile in white and let her really act the parts instead. As for new styles of production, I'd be happy to see some. There will always be a classical version playing somewhere, and it's always fun to try new things.

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If I were to have one fervent desire - if one was ever possible which in reality I know it is not - vis a vis the new RB Swan Lake it would be that it might have just one interval between the second and third acts.  My memory of the Erik Bruhn production - which had just that - is both vivid and positive.  The artistic connections were I felt especially potent.

 

I've never actually seen a production of SL where the first two acts were separated.  (Has anyone here seen that?)  That situation goes from a palace courtyard to the lake side.  I don't myself see why it would - or should - be so difficult given modern technologies (think 'ALICE') and imaginations to go from a Great Hall in that same palace back to the same lake side.  

 

The music meshes so beautifully in the telling the tale in the link between the third act ending and the fourth act commencement and the connection really makes a complete whole.  Also there are practical considerations which such would serve.  It would certainly cut down on people's worry about an obviously - in many instances - troubled transport system (just look at the number of continual transport interruptions around the ROH/Covent Garden itself) and would, I should think, make the addition of more SL matinees even more manageable.  (Alternatively, where there was a matinee of an opera, say, it would make the prospect of orchestra overtime at night playing SL even more remote - even should an emergency situation arise.  Also it might well require less production crew .. or certainly allow those on call to be released earlier - which too might well be a saving.)  

 

That said I feel that ROH commercial instincts might well take priority here in terms of their concessions.  In fact I'm convinced that they would.  Still, I am myself of the belief that if they had one interval of 30 minutes they would/could sell just as much - if not perhaps even more than in two intermissions at a seeming 20 to 25 minutes each.  With just one interval the ROH would also be able to practically have more service staff for a shorter period of time and therefore practically keep very close to their current budgets whilst offering employment to a greater number.  ....Also it would allow the dancers to be able to leave the theatre earlier and have a short period of more rest before their class the next day.

 

Again, all this is just by way of a suggestion.  

Edited by Bruce Wall
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Vis-a-vis costumes, although I have a great deal of fondness for Anthony Dowell's disco production, I wish all companies would leave off some of the glitter on Siegfried. I was nearly blinded in July/August by the Bolshoi's glittery shirts, and I'm not that much more impressed by the gold puffs in the Dowell production. I know it seems a trivial complaint, but it can be very distracting, not to mention not period typical, whether the setting is meant to be medieval or 19th century.

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Vis-a-vis costumes, although I have a great deal of fondness for Anthony Dowell's disco production, I wish all companies would leave off some of the glitter on Siegfried. I was nearly blinded in July/August by the Bolshoi's glittery shirts, and I'm not that much more impressed by the gold puffs in the Dowell production. I know it seems a trivial complaint, but it can be very distracting, not to mention not period typical, whether the setting is meant to be medieval or 19th century.

 The glittery shirts! God, the prince's shirt really was blinding. And I was in the upper slips!

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It would have to be totally traditional for me. One thing I would like is alternative endings (happy or sad) and you don't know what you're going to get until it happens...  :D

Oh no! It's got to be the sad ending!!!

 

Has anyone ever seen or thought of the swans doing arial work?

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It would have to be totally traditional for me. One thing I would like is alternative endings (happy or sad) and you don't know what you're going to get until it happens...  :D

 

Interesting idea!! (Might be quite a challenge for the dancers too!). :wacko:

 

And I know what you mean, but I never actually think of it as a 'sad' ending, except (of course!) in that they die. Because it's clear that through their death - through the power of their love, to the extent of being willing to die for it - that they break the power of evil; and it's clear (at least in the current RB production) that they don't just die, they enter eternal life. So for me it's the most powerful of all happy endings in spite of - or perhaps because of - the pain and loss. The alternative 'happy' ending would be have much less power and resonance for me. So I'm with Janet on this.

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I think that it is high time that choreographers left the classics alone. After all we don't rewrite Dickens, Shakespeare or Pushkin, so why all these "new" versions of Swan Lake . etc etc. If choreographers really want to prove themselves they should be looking for new subjects and new music. I think that Scarlett would do well to look at Ratmansky's reconstruction. OK for new costumes and sets and for filling in those bits that are missing from the notation, but otherwise can we please have as much of the Petipa/Ivanov choreography that survives. If the 19th century classics really are the masterpieces that they are claimed to be, why does the ballet world handle their choreographic texts in such a cavalier fashion?

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I think that it is high time that choreographers left the classics alone. After all we don't rewrite Dickens, Shakespeare or Pushkin, so why all these "new" versions of Swan Lake . etc etc. If choreographers really want to prove themselves they should be looking for new subjects and new music. I think that Scarlett would do well to look at Ratmansky's reconstruction. OK for new costumes and sets and for filling in those bits that are missing from the notation, but otherwise can we please have as much of the Petipa/Ivanov choreography that survives. If the 19th century classics really are the masterpieces that they are claimed to be, why does the ballet world handle their choreographic texts in such a cavalier fashion?

 

Hear, Hear!

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I think that it is high time that choreographers left the classics alone. After all we don't rewrite Dickens, Shakespeare or Pushkin, so why all these "new" versions of Swan Lake . etc etc. If choreographers really want to prove themselves they should be looking for new subjects and new music. I think that Scarlett would do well to look at Ratmansky's reconstruction. OK for new costumes and sets and for filling in those bits that are missing from the notation, but otherwise can we please have as much of the Petipa/Ivanov choreography that survives. If the 19th century classics really are the masterpieces that they are claimed to be, why does the ballet world handle their choreographic texts in such a cavalier fashion?

 Hang on now, we rewrite and adapt Shakespeare all the time. The RSC has done some really amazing and innovative adaptations recently; Cymbeline set in futuristic dystopian Britain was especially fantastic. And it doesn't stop anyone from going to see classic Shakespeare; it just adds an interesting option. There will always be classic ballets playing somewhere - why shouldn't we experiment too? I like the ENB's current approach, with Akram Khan's Giselle playing first, and then the classical Skeaping Giselle in the spring. Something for everyone :)

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Rewrite and adapt Shakespeare all the time? I am well aware that most of the bard's plays are cut in performance, an uncut Hamlet would no doubt last longer than most modern audiences could tolerate, but rewrite? Did the production of Cymbeline which you cite have large tracts of the text rewritten, or was it only the production's "concept" which drew your admiration? And here we enter the realm of "regietheater" which is so fashionable these days, especially in the world of opera, and which has resulted in the ROH serving up several monstrous turkeys recently. I don't have any issues with Matthew Bourne's productions which are virtually new ballets although using existing music, and although I haven't see Akram Khan's Giselle I gather from reviews that most of the music is new with a few references to the original score and entirely new choreography, which places it in much the same category as Matthew Bourne's productions. However, I don't believe that such productions have a place in the RB's repertoire which, as I understand de Valois's original remit, is to preserve the classics while looking elsewhere for new and original work.

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...If you were given Liam Scarlett's new task of creating a brand new Swan Lake what would you do/how would you do it?

 

Is he tasked with "creating a brand new Swan Lake"? A chance to out-Bourne Bourne perhaps? If so no problem and it can run alongside the familiar and brilliant Dowell reconstruction much like Khan's Giselle at the ENB. Or is he embarking on an evolutionary process looking at the minor issues which annoyed some people over the years - costume details, a bit of fussiness, too many people - perhaps alongside new designs and so on.

 

Over the years we came to take for granted one of the finest and most iconic productions in the RB repertoire. I have an enormous respect and liking for Liam Scarlett's work and I look forward to his production eagerly. I so wish him well. But I mourn the passing of the Dowell Swan Lake which had challenged so many generations of their finest dancers. And I wish Scarlett had been offered the chance to follow his Frankenstein with another entirely new narrative ballet, just as I am hoping and praying that one day Chris Wheeldon will return to the RB with another full-length original narrative work. 

Edited by David
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