Swan Lake, Coliseum, London

“A Nightmare” is the subtitle Peter Schaufuss gives to his version of Swan Lake, and this is the (unwitting, I suppose) perfect description of the first staging in a week’s season by the Schaufuss Ballet at the Coliseum. The incredulous eye, the disbelieving senses – mine, and surely any honourable ballet-lover’s – are the only likely responses to this opening blast in a dance-trilogy whose dubious argument is Schaufuss’s bizarre dramatic scheme linking Tchaikovsky’s three dance-scores in an over-arching narrative. Historical fact to the contrary, Schaufuss offers only nagging fatuities in this production to sabotage the accepted drama, and I find them insufferable.

As to details: there is a serious, albeit heavily-trimmed, recording of the score. The affair lasts, with one interval, some 105 minutes. The setting proposes a partially mirrored back to the stage, and an illuminated dance-area on which the action takes its unlikely place. There is costuming of blazing unlikelihood: swans (both male and female) in white trouser-ettes, white bonnets, vestigial feathered bodices; Siegfried in black trousers and a manic cardigan; Von Rothbart wearing a fetishistic black leather tail-coat; Siegfried’s mother in flowing black, a bad temper and dreariest dance. Assorted corps de ballet dancers (and none too many of them) rush eagerly about, notable – in a production determinedly under-lit - for willingness rather than coherent style. There are two Jesters whose behaviour is singularly depressing in manner and matter.

The choreography for Siegfried and the two temperature-lowering danseuses who play Odette and Odile is obsessively concerned with floor-bound writhing. No amount of special pleading, of aesthetic jiggery-pokery, can excuse Schaufuss’s weird libretto as it plays its fatuous game by way of crass mickey-mousing and dismal romping to Tchaikovsky’s ardours. The fine young Danish danseur, Alban Lendorf, wastes his time as the supposed hero Siegfried: dark trews against a dark set render any dance virtues almost invisible.

The other performers were, to my glazed eyes, formidably tiresome. Irek Mukhamedov, a guest, was – when the murky production permitted – his prodigious self, and a single gesture from him was worth all the frenetic mumming from the rest of the cast. Hell gaped.


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