Originally conceived in the late 19th-century, Swan Lake tells the story of a prince who falls in love with a maiden cursed into the form of a swan, while an evil sorcerer attempts to deceive his way into the prince’s royal family.
Swan Lake is the kind of production that doesn’t really change over the years. This is a good thing, in that audiences today who have never seen the ballet have the opportunity to witness Lev Ivanov’s classic 1895 choreography largely untouched. But Ballet Manila’s devotion to accuracy also means that this version of Swan Lake is just as niche as it’s been for decades. Story is not Swan Lake’s strength, which means that modern dance fans might not be able to latch onto the show’s archetypal characters and overly simplistic plot—much of which is difficult to understand without research.
Visually, this restaging unfortunately doesn’t really possess the mysticism Swan Lake is known for, nor does it have the same grandeur of Ballet Manila’s Ibong Adarna. The stiff production design and projected backgrounds don’t do much to transport us into this fantasy world.
But these things are never the reason people go to Swan Lake. It’s always been about the dancing, and in this respect, Ballet Manila delivers. The choreography is spectacular, the performers pushing themselves beyond physical limits with unwavering grace. It’s all the more impressive when you consider that Swan Lake is structured somewhat like a dance exhibition, with routines performed one after the other, non-stop. And Katherine Barkman does justice to the notoriously difficult dual role of both Odette and Odile (the gentle White Swan and the aggressive Black Swan, respectively).
However, the best reason for Swan Lake newbies to catch this revival is undoubtedly the music. Performed live by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s score combines sweeping romance and pure menace into a seamless whole. It’s the beating heart that ultimately makes this version of Swan Lake as memorable as it is.
Ballet Manila took something of a risk with Swan Lake. This season, they specified that their mission is to bring people back to the ballet. The problem is, by design, Swan Lake is not an accessible production; it’s primarily for hardcore fans of classical ballet (and even some of these fans might place Ballet Manila’s restaging under intense scrutiny). Still, the privilege of even being given the opportunity to see Swan Lake live is immense. It’s one of the great ballets for a reason, and anyone even remotely interested should see it at least once.
SWAN LAKE WILL BE PERFORMED AT THE ALIW THEATER IN PASAY FROM OCTOBER 14 TO 15. PURCHASE TICKETS AT TICKETWORLD.COM.PH