The swans are prostitutes.
Rothbart's a drug-dealing pimp. Prince Siegfried is a bit of a lad; his gaudily clad mates even more so. The scenes, switching between a grand mansion and a seedy canalside, are set for Fredrik Rydman's Swan Lake Reloaded. Oh, and then there's the score, which is one moment Tchaikovsky, the next Swedish electro. "Jeez," said my friend, "I thought you had to go to Edinburgh to see this sort of thing."
It's fabulous though. Daniel Koivunen as Rothbart calls in his addict swans by text in an attention-grabbing opener, projection making it like Tom Cruise on the computer in Minority Report. Koivunen is lithe and absolutely terrifying, more scary than any other I have seen in the role. The swans crawl out of the depths shaking with desire to get their hits.
Rydman, who is about to turn 39, was part of Bounce, a street-dance collective most famous for getting flashmobs to perform Michael Jackson's Beat It in various public places. This sensibility is instilled in Swan Lake Reloaded. Fredrik "Kaos" Wentzel, as the jester, performs astonishing feats that include an attempt on Odile's infamously taxing 32 fouettés – only he spins on his head.
The story remains the same. Siegfried, unimpressed by the women presented to him at court, finds obsession in Odette. The difference is that he first sees her dancing in an Amsterdam-style prostitute's shopfront and is later confused into mistaking her for Odile when Rothbart plies him with drugs.
There are quibbles. The women – tremendous dancers – are underused. The infatuation between Siegfried and Odette is unconvincing. There is more than a hint of the circus. And a fair chunk of the Swedish music is appalling. Set against this are superbly rendered sets and costumes, dancing that is physical and exact, a wonderful mixing of Tchaikovsky's great score and the contemporary dance music (if only it were better!), imaginative and unconstrained choreography that rises above the pyrotechnics – and enough properly realised characters to keep you gripped.
Rydman came to this idea, he has said, "standing in front of a vintage boutique in Camden… I was thinking the white furs hanging the window looked like swans". Certainly, other versions – Matthew Bourne's – are more profound, but this had moments that will remain with me. Odette's dance where the yearning for heroin kicks in sees a cockroach projected on to her skin, moving up her veins, then multiplying. There's a chase scene that took me to the edge of my seat. Best of all is Rydman's reworking of the pas de quatre, which starts with the swans on the floor, bare feet pointed towards the audience. It's a wonderful piece of dancethat perfectly matches the architecture of the setting.
The show drew a crowd of twentysomethings the like of which I have rarely seen at the ballet. Rydman is a star ascending. Swan Lake Reloaded showed a understanding of spectacle matched by a talent for storytelling. After the high-octane finale I wondered briefly about nuance and emotion, but then relaxed, happy in the knowledge that I'd just had a great time.
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