Northern Ballet: Swan Lake, Aylesbury Waterside

I’m not a huge ballet fan, I must admit. Indeed, last night was the first time I’d attended a full length ballet at the theatre, as a guest of the new, rather beautiful, Aylesbury Waterside theatre on its opening night.

I suppose, as first ballets to attend, Swan Lake is pretty usual. And as the first full scale production in the Waterside, Northern Ballet‘s interpretation feels particularly appropriate. Not only is it a show that could not have been staged in the old Civic Centre, but Act I’s gorgeous countryside set worked well with the theatre’s wood-clad interior, while the lake shore setting added an additional waterside resonance.

There have been some tweaks to the more traditional Swan Lake story. Set in an early 20th century land, Prince Siegfried becomes Anthony, who loses his brother to the lake during the ballet’s prologue. As the first act progresses, young man Anthony cavorts with his friends Simon and Odilia.

The romantic triangle at the heart of this relationship is the strongest and most successful part of this production. Anthony and Odilia are friendly, a little flirtatious, but when she moves in for a kiss his sudden recoil embarrasses her. Likewise, when Anthony’s boyish horseplay with Simon threatens to break into more romantic territory, he too is pushed away, the spectre of the lake preventing Anthony from exploring his emotions with anybody – until the swan appears.

To be honest – and this is probably more as a result of my own tastes, rather than of the production or the dancers – the extended sequences with the swans and cygnets tired a little. Compared to the powerful evocation of a love triangle on land, the swan dances contain little plot or emotion. The story, such as it is, seems to be “Look at me! I’m beautiful! I can jump high, but higher if you support me! And look, I’m still beautiful after 15 minutes of dancing!”

As the second act progresses and his parents host a party for Anthony’s coming of age, the focus returns to the Anthony/Odilia/Simon triangle, before a return to the lake in the concluding act which sees Anthony seemingly take a decisive move to join the swans. Again, it’s the emotions of the “humans” that makes for my favourite elements of this production, but I guess that’s again down to my preference for story, story, story.

Despite my own tastes, there’s no denying that the production is beautiful throughout, and I have more problem with anachronistic bicycles than I do with a corps de ballet performing classic routines. It’s a fine production to kick off what deserves – and, given how much the theatre cost to build, needs – to be a successful first season for the Aylesbury Waterside.