★★★★ | Northern Ballet’s Swan Lake

 Following the accidental drowning of his brother whilst they were out playing, Anthony’s obsession with the lake grows increasingly, as does his guilt; with his turbulent inner emotions being further compounded by his confusion around his attraction to his best friend, Simon.

Simon is in love with Anthony and their relationship teeters on the cusp of developing into something more, until Anthony’s parents press him towards marriage to Odilia. Torn between his best friend and his parent’s wishes, Anthony’s guilt grows increasingly and he finds comfort and solace in the waters of the lake and in the arms of the mystical creature, Odette.

David Nixon’s choreography brims with an abundance of metaphor within this reworking of a classic. The light, delicate movement of the swans sit opposite the dark, emotional turmoil of the central character; just as swans glide so gracefully on the surface whilst paddling so frantically under the water. Equally, the influence of Anthony’s inner struggle and guilt over his brother and his repressed sexuality ripples out to impact on the other characters, akin to the waves caused by a disturbance on a lake’s surface. The lines of symmetry drawn in the movement across the stage prove mesmerising at times and these gentile moments compliment the dark undertone of the story and the emotional confusion of the central characters – almost a metaphorical white swan and black swan. Elements of the traditional ballet, including the score, remain intact, but the story gives the opportunity for multiple interpretations and parallels to be drawn between the original and reimagined characters. The familiar music took on new meaning with the revised story and the production as a whole packed an emotional punch.

Toby Batley’s portrayal of the tortured Anthony impressed, but it was Nicola Gervasi who stood out as the handsome and fresh-faced Simon, progressing his character with an increasingly self-assured acceptance of his sexuality and a confidence in his feelings towards Anthony. Gervasi is nicely developing as an artist and it was a pleasure to watch his performance. Martha Leebolt and Ayami Miyata were stunning as Odette and Odilia respectively, but the quality of the performance of the company as a whole was incredibly high and the grace displayed, particularly by the female ensemble was beautiful.

Swan Lake is one of the more visually impressive productions that Northern Ballet has recently performed and is a good balance of old and new, although it can be slightly heavy going at times given the darker aspects of the narrative. With the characters reluctance to accept the changes in their relationships, it did put this writer in mind of Brokeback Mountain a little, with reference to the conflict between true feelings and social expectations.

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Swan Lake is playing at Leeds Grand Theatre until 12th March 2016, and then touring to Sheffield Lyceum Theatre, Norwich Theatre Royal and Milton Keynes Theatre between now and the 30th April 2016. Tickets and other details can be found at www.northernballet.com.

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Northern Ballet’s 1984 is currently available on BBC iPlayer and they will be touring 1984, Jayne Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Romeo & Juliet and Beauty and the Beast during 2016.

About the author: Paul Szabo
In between visits to the theatre, watching films, photography, walking, scuba diving and singing (badly); Paul writes for TheGayUK.