There are, I suppose, reasons for going to see the Ballets de Monte Carlo’s Lac – the troupe’s idea of what Swan Lake can mean today – at the London Coliseum. Motives for sampling this affair are rather like those that once inspired trips to Bedlam for a laugh at the loonies, or a jolly outing to bear-baiting, or were incentive for the tricoteuses at the guillotine as yet another aristo lost his head. It is, and I choose my words carefully, an outrage perpetrated against a central masterpiece in the old classic repertory that remains a sublime example of musical and choreographic grace, in which great dancers, great ensembles, have sought to express the noblest ideals of their art, in great theatres, sustained by great traditions.
Cursed with a new and addled dramaturgy by Jean Rouaud, giving off faint whiffs of incest; damned with choreography by Jean-Christophe Maillot (director of the Monte Carlo troupe) that contrives to be blatant, inexpressive and, so I found, supernally vulgar; with the score sawn into convenient lengths that ignore the original’s dramatic or musical scheme – the programme book is also undecided on how to spell the composer’s name. The sets by Ernest Pignon-Ernest and costuming by Philippe Guillotel are in perfect accord with the rest of this nasty event, and we are faced with something so bizarrely wrong-headed as to defeat comprehension. (The lame subtitle After Swan Lake is no excuse for anything.)
There is no point in seeking to understand the addled narrative, nor to excuse the vehement and monotonous performances, nor justify the axe-murderer’s finesse in making dance or drama. The cast bang and romp through their tasks, and do not impress with their style or skills. (That I mistook some of the swans for Trocks is an incidental problem.)
I thought that Jeroen Verbruggen, as the Benno-figure, displayed a vivid emotional and technical clarity, and must be saved from the wreckage. The rest deserved their nasty fate in this cussed travesty. In the words of an 18th-century clergyman, reporting the opinions of visitors to his house, the production was “all blunder and conundrum”. The lighting, incidentally, was frightful.