Review: Swan Lake

Swan lake
Image credit: Tom Attridge and Hannah Taylor

Beautifully lit and costumed, the Cambridge University Ballet Club’s Swan Lake is a show worth seeing, and one I am more than pleased to say was my first live ballet. Of course, the skill of the performers varied and it was sometimes easy for my eyes to snag on a waver here or a missed cue there, made more noticeable by the amateurish choreography. However, it was equally easy to instead focus on the warm, subtle lighting and the relaxed chemistry between the dancers.

Most of the first half, as well as the court scenes in the second half, viewed more like dress rehearsals than a final polished performance and so although the audience’s expectations going in were high, this seemed to have changed by intermission. This is not necessarily a bad thing – where we began with expectations of flawless synchronicity and impossible poses held unwaveringly, we realised by the intermission that the magic of this performance lies more so in the ambitious dedication of its cast and crew.

But if its skill you’re after, the second half is worth sticking around for. Once your expectations have been lowered by the first half and you settle in to enjoy Odette (Emma Laister) and Siegfried’s (Doug Ross) pairing (nice enough, skilled enough, but forgettable due to its predictability and brevity), Odile (Joanna Lawrence) appears in time to remind you just how arresting ballet can be. Had the cast’s apparent enjoyment in partaking in the show not endeared the audience to them by this point, Lawrence’s black swan variation would have served only to outshine almost everyone else. As it happened, the measured elegance of her every gesture and the carefully judged emotion of every facial expression served as the kinaesthetic just-desserts the audience was obviously waiting for, and did so without overshadowing the others. A shout-out is also owed to Andreas Stavrou (Wolfgang), whose skill and charisma would have been better showcased in a role more central to the plot.

More difficult to forgive was the music. I do not doubt that it is hard to do much with a pre-set score, especially in the absence of a live orchestra, but it is also not too difficult to do more than vary between pleasant, deafening, and inaudible.

Overall, having seen the show on its opening night and watched it become more engaging as the night went on, I am curious as to what the remaining nights will look like.


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