Review: Swan Lake (The National Ballet of Canada)

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The National Ballet of Canada brings its production of Swan Lake back to Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre

Swan Lake is an enduring classic and one of the most famous ballets of all time. Tchaikovsky’s score is iconic and the ballet itself is pervasive in popular culture; its popularity is currently buoyed by the recent Oscar-nominated film Black Swan. It really does feel like one of those pivotal works of art that one ought to see in their lifetime.

Luckily for those of us in Toronto, the National Ballet of Canada is presenting its magnificent production of Swan Lake for an eight-performance run at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, just in time for March break.

The production is a remount featuring the choreography of the National Ballet’s former artistic director James Kudelka, and first premiered in 1999. Kudelka’s version of Swan Lake downplays the mythical elements of the show and presents a slightly different, albeit still tragic, ending to the story.

The production design elements are superb; Santo Loquasto’s sets and costumes set the ballet in an unspecified European kingdom in a nondescript past era and are every bit as lavish and gorgeously ornate as you’d expect. The sets are accentuated by Robert Thomson’s lighting designs which are particularly effective when evoking the dark, mythical lakeside at night.

On opening night I had the fortune of seeing Principal Guest Artist Svetlana Lunkina, a former Principal Dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet, in the lead dual role of the Swan Princess, Odette, and her evil doppelgänger Odile, the Black Swan. Lunkina is riveting. She deftly portrays the dichotomy between her two characters. Lunkina channels innocence and purity when she dances the part of Odette while her Black Swan is playfully flirtatious rather than overtly seductive.

The role of Odette’s lover Prince Siegfried was danced on opening night by Evan McKie, a principal dancer with the Stuttgart Ballet. The tall, sinewy McKie definitely looks the part of a prince. He dances with remarkable power and grace and also has a great chemistry with Lunkina.

Lunkina and McKie alternate the lead roles with other National Ballet Principal Dancers and First Soloists according to a schedule.

The corps de ballet is in top form, especially the women. When they execute the rapid choreography en pointe while portraying the flock of swans the effect is truly breathtaking.

Swan Lake would make a great introduction to ballet. I really applaud the National Ballet’s efforts to make the art form more accessible. As an added bonus they host free Ballet Talks one hour before every performance with Ballet Master Lindsay Fischer. The talks provide the audience with background information and some great insight into the performance.

I was also seated next to two younger audience members who had secured tickets through the National Ballet’s DanceBreak program which offers last-minute tickets for $35 for patrons under 30 years of age.

There’s a reason why Swan Lake is such an enduring classic. Whether you’re new to the ballet or you’re already familiar with it, the National Ballet’s Swan Lake is a gorgeous, sumptuous feast for the eyes and ears that’s not to be missed.

Details:

  • Swan Lake is playing through March 16, 2014 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen St. W.)
  • Performances run Wednesday – Saturday at 7:30PM, Sunday at 2:00PM with an additional performance on Saturday, March 15 at 2:00PM
  • Tickets $35 – $184
  • Tickets are available in person at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts box office (145 Queen St. W.), by phone at 416-345-9595 or online at national.ballet.ca.

– Photo of Evan McKie and Svetlana Lunkina with Artists of the National Ballet by Aleksandar Antonijevic.