Monday, August 23, 2010

Today I caught up with Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake for the Australian Ballet on DVD. It was first presented in 2002 and I could not think why I missed it until I realized my husband was dying!  It has been revived and has just visited Paris. It is magnificent. Regretfully though the dress did not behave as above but that is a minor matter.

Graeme Murphy is the third choreographer who has given a fresh reading of this classic. Jonathan Miller explained how true masterpieces are relevant  to any age and can be reinterpreted in the light of the current social climate. This happens in opera and Shakespeare all the time but in 1976 a brave and brilliant choreographer had a 'go ' at 'Swan Lake'.

In' Illusions Like Swan Lake'  John Neumeier of the Hamburg Ballet based his plot on  The Swan King, Ludwig of Bavaria which fitted the original story very well. Ludwig was homosexual, never married and eventually drowned in mysterious circumstances in his lake. This version is my favourtie of all and I have seen Swan Lake for over a forty year period.

The biggest problem with Swan Lake is that Act II is the pinnacle of choreographic art. No one has ever done anything better. It was choreographed by Lev Ivanov who was Maurice Petipa's assistant for forty years. In all those years Petipa never let Ivanov have an opportunity to show what he could do. Ivanov was to remain an nonentity for posterity but fate and the Good Fairy stepped in.

While working on Swan Lake Petipa was taken ill and he was obliged to hand over Act II to his assistant  Ivanov and the rest is history. Ivanov is remembered for posterity  as the greatest classical ballet choreographer ever.  The balletic Mozart. Nothing so far has yet reached the perfection that this simple White Ballet attains. No huge lifts , no virtuosos technique required the very simplicity is its strongest virtue.

The rest of the ballet is a hotch potch of choreographers but Act II by Ivanov stands alone. He will be remembered for this Act and nothing more but he eclipses his master as Mozart eclipsed Salerie. Sort of poetic justice and it so nearly didn't happen.

Neumeier was clever and left  Act  II  to stand alone using Ivanov's original choreography. Another version the all make Act II of Mathew Bourne does the same with a few minor changes but Graeme Murphy with  all the confidence of an Aussie has had a go at re-choreographing the Holy Grail.

Does it work? Not quite! Murphy based the story on Lady Di/Charles/Camilla love triangle. A very good choice and it works well except for Act II. Murphey's choreography is sublime, the technique required is that  of a virtuoso, the originality of the steps is remarkable the cygnets is a delightful array of invention after innovation and Murphy is the master of unique lifts and passionate pas de deux, Murphy comes close to perfection but maybe is a little OTT. Ivanov does not need improving.

So where does Swan Lake go from here. Tchaikovsky the composer would be a suitable candidate. His disastrous marriage to a naive woman is the stuff of legend. Tchaikovsky was homosexual and married for conventional reasons. Needless to say it did not work for either of them. One would have to work at the plot to make it fit but I feel sure someone is up to it. It is the sort of thing I should have relished doing when I was twenty but have no time now.

Someone will, just remember where you heard it first but one thing is certain if it is to be successful, Hands off Act II.

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