Swan Lake Review

On Friday 4th January 2019, I went to see the ballet Swan Lake in London, performed by the English National Ballet. The show lasted for 3 hours and was performed at the London Coliseum- one of London’s largest live theatres. 

Swan Lake Review

Swan Lake is a famous traditional ballet that was first performed in 1877, after in 1875-1876 when Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, a Russian composer and musician, composed the famous songs for Swan Lake. I have seen a ballet performance before, when I went to see The Nutcracker, in Dartford, at the Orchard Theatre, also composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. However, I definitely prefer Swan Lake because I think that it has better story line and as it was a romance, I thought it was more emotional and therefore the dancing was more emotional. I loved so many things about Swan Lake, from the dancing to the acting to the set etc… and found the performance so inspirational and captivating to watch. 

The quality and technique of all the dancing in the performance was of such a high standard so that every move was executed perfectly. As someone who does ballet, it was nice when certain moves that I recognised came up in the choreography, for example courus (I worked a lot on these during my arts challenge in Unit 1 Part B). I liked the choreography of Swan Lake a lot, but I loved the way the dancers dance it. One of the main things that stood out to me was how in time all the dancers where with other and the music. For example, there were 24 swan maidens who played a big part in the show. The swan maidens were so perfectly in time with each other and every small arm movement they all did moved as one. Moreover, the way the swan maidens executed their dancing together made it look so easy and therefore really satisfying for the audience to watch. Another thing that I noticed was how high all the jumps where, especially by the male dancers. One of the jumps that I noticed was typically high was the batterie jumps, executed by both the male and female dancers. 

Another part of the dancing that I loved was the way Odette (the main character in Swan Lake- performed by Alina Cojocaru- a Romanian dancer who joined the English National Ballet at age 33) used her arms in a way that really empathised with her swan character. Her arms floated and moved with amazing extension and beauty, just like a swan. Also, the swan maidens and Odette performed courus a lot as it is a form of travel in ballet and the way the swans did it made them look that they were floating and almost travelling on water. The swans didn’t walk much as a form of travel as that isn’t a form of travel that a swan would do. Courus are when the feet beat the ground very fast and use very tiny steps, no bigger than 2cm, however, the way Alina Cojocaru (Odette) did them, it looked as if we wasn’t taking any steps, but gliding, making it look like she was a swan on water.

Another part of the dancing that I loved was when Odile (the daughter of Rothbath, who pretended to be Odette to trick Prince Siegfried- therefore also played by Alina Cojocaru) performed 33 turns in one go. I found that so inspirational because there was so much control and spotting and I struggle to execute 9 turns. Turning is definitely something that I want to improve on and be good at. 

A huge part of the magic of the show was definitely the costumes. In the princes palace the costumes helped showed the status and wealth of the characters in the show, i.e. all the royal members or wealthy advisors wore deep colours or white costumes, decorated in gold and sequins and beads and wore big, long dresses if female, and blazer/shirts if male. Also, I noticed some of the royal members carried fans or wore headpieces. The lower status people at the palace wore more earthy colours that were plain, and the girls wore dresses that were not as long as the wealthier people in the performance. 

The costumes that the swan maidens and Odette wore were so beautiful and reflected their character as a swan. They wore a white leotard and white tutus, decorated in silver sparkles, sequins and feathers. The costumes were so stunning and represented the beauty and prosperity of a swan. 

However, my favourite costume definitely has to be Rothbard’s costume. Rothbard was the evil sourcerer who was half-bird, half-man, and his costume showed him as being half-bird amazingly. He had huge wings which he used as an extension of his arms and when he fully extended his arms together, above his head, it resembled a bird perfectly. 

Like the costumes, the set for the performance was amazing. The stage was deep, but the set had many layers where trees and rocks layered the set in the lake scenes and in the palace scenes, candles hung from the ceiling. The set matched the mood and the story perfectly with great scenery and it was decorative, but it wasn’t too distracting for the eye. The set also had different levels, i.e. there was a platform, disguised as a rock were the characters would sometimes stand on and be able the others. Rothbard often went on this rock and it was where he died. The set was also very mobile and easily moved to made a different scenery. Also, the lighting really contributed to the mood of the performance and easily created a nervous atmosphere by dimming the lights. Moreover, the effect of lightning was done regularly in the scenes that Rothbard was in. This helped create the mood for the scene to come. 

Another part of the set that was really effective was when the evil Odile was inside the palace, tricking the prince to love her, an realistic video of Odette was projected outside of the palace, begging for the prince to stay true to her. As Alina Cojocaru plays both Odile and Odette, I thought it was really effective how Odette was still in the scene. 

The music also changed according to the mood of the scene, especially at the beginning when Princess Odette was human and was dancing in her palace. At this point the music was light and cheerful. However, it gradually got sadder and more eerie, and you got the uncomfortable scene of danger. Suddenly the music changed with crashed and loud trumpets to reveal Rothbard. During their struggle the music remains loud until it suddenly when quieter and sad as Odette was revealed as her swan self. I thought the music really helped you feel and hear the mood and empathise with what was going on. Also, there was a noticeable difference from when Rothbard exited the scene and Prince Siegfried (Jeffrey Cirio) came on. The music with Rothbard gave a panicky sense and the music with Siegfried was more peaceful, which was a relaxing contrast during the story. 

Another thing that I notice to do with the music is that whenever the swan maidens or Odette in her swan form danced, the music was always sad and depressing, which made me empathise with their longingness to be human and their sadness about being swans. Also, the music in the scenes of the Prince’s palace was always cheerful and loud. 

The acting in Swan Lake was so great as usual in ballets. As in ballet shows, the dances can’t speak and has to use movement to get across their feelings and words. Moreover, the dancers used body language and movement to portray their character. An example of this was the Prince’s mother, the queen. She performed very gracious and well-held. Also, all the other people on stage bowed to her and showed her respect. That and her costume made it obvious that she was an important, wealthy person in the performance. Another example of this was the prince’s tutor. The tutor was old and wealthy. His actor (Michael Coleman), acted very out of breath, tired and hot after chasing after the prince. This made him seem old and less mobile. 

In the way the prince dance and used facial expressions, you could really see the emotion of the character he was. His dancing looked sad, lonely and meaningless at some points of the show, but whenever he was with Odette, his dancing and acting was hopeful and in love. 

Also, another thing that I noticed was Odette and Odile are very different characters in the show (Odile is evil, and Odette is good). As Odette and Odile were both played by Alina Cojocaru, it was as if they were played by to different people. Alina Cojocaru played Odette with beauty and so much sadness and hopelessness that her dancing was so emotional and really made the audience empathize with her. Her dancing was so slow and graceful. However, Alina Cojocaru played Odile with a sense of unnoticeable evil- by smiling and her body language. Also, her choreography had more tricks and Alina Cojocaru played her as showing off slightly and her choreography was faster and much sharper, which was a massive contrast to when Alina played Odette. It was hard to pin point the differences of because they were so small, but they definitely made such a huge difference. 

Another thing that I noticed was how like Odette, the swans were also so slow and graceful. The audience could really tell the sadness of them from their dancing and their longingness to be human. There dancing was so emotional, and it was a huge difference from the atmosphere in the kings palace. 

The men in the performance had so much strength. One of the things I noticed about them was how high all their jumps were. It looked impossible yet the way they did them, so easy. All the jumps were landed perfectly with so much control. Some of the jumps I noticed was a jump done by Jeffrey Cirio (who played Prince Siegfried), all his jumps were so high, but I particularly noticed when he jumped and did 2 full twisted in the air before landing. Another jump I noticed was a batterie jump. He jumped, and he beat his feet together 4 times in one jump. I thought all the jumps executed by the male dancers were so controls and showed so much strength. 

Another thing I noticed was how controlled all the turns were, that were executed by the men. At the very beginning of the show, Jefferey Cirio did 8 turns in a row. They were so controlled and lasted a whole bar of counts. 

The girls in the performance had so much strength as well, but made every movement looks so effortless and beautiful. The girls all dancing on pointe shoes and were all so delicate and made pointe look so easy. This was really inspirational because my main focus during my arts challenge in Unit 1 Part A and B was pointe and having experienced the hardness of it, it was really inspirational to see how natural all the dancers looked on pointe. Along with the costumes, the dancing really contributed to the beauty for the swans. 

Swan Lake was truly a stunning performance and I had so many favourite parts in it. One of my favourite parts was the introduction when Odette was human and danced in her garden, in a flowing dress and then suddenly Rothbard entered. After their struggle, Rothbard hid Odette behind his massive wings and revealed her as a swan, in her white swan tutu. This was one of my favourite parts because the music made it so sad and dramatic. Another one of my favourite parts in the show was when after the interval, the curtains were drawn to reveal the lake and the floor was a thick layer of smoke. Then Rothbard with his huge wings ran into the smoke and shock the perfect and still layer. The smoke reminded me of a lake and how Rothbard was disturbing the water. 

Another one of my favourite parts of the show was when four swan dancers came onto the stage with linked arms and performed a dance with their arms linked the whole time. This is a classic part of swan lake called The Dance of the Four Little Swans. They were so in time and they moved flawlessly, as if they were all one person. Another of my favourite parts was when the swans came on the stage in a line and they snaked across the stage. The swans just kept coming and there were so many. I was eventually able to count 24 of them. They were so many of them and they were so in time. 

Odette and Prince Siegfried performed many lifts together and they all looked so easy. All of the lifts they did we above head height and some were even higher. The lifts made the scenes so dramatic and beautiful. However, my favourite thing about the show is when Odette lay arched in Siegfried arms after a lift because it was so dramatic, and I thought it really showed there sadness and love together. I thought it was a really powerful part of the show. 

If I had to say one thing that I didn’t like about the show, it would be the ending. At the ending, Siegfried and Odette had both committed suicide and Rothbard had also died. As the 24 swan maidens danced at the end, Prince Siegfried and Odette rode in a charette in the sky together. I thought that this was a bit cheesy and I think it should have ended similar to how to start- with Odette human again. I think that Prince Siegfried and human Odette should have done a dance together as spirts or something similar at the end to symbolise how they were dead, but Odette was human and had died together and were together still. 

However, Swan Lake was such an amazing performance and it was by far my favourite ballet. It was so sad and dramatic, and I think that the music and the set and costumes really helped set the mood. The dancing was at such a high standard and it was so inspirational to me as a dancer. 

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Tiia Lahdelma

Tiia Lahdelma

Silver Arts Award


  • Tanya Lahdelma

    On 24 February 2019, 09:01 Tanya Lahdelma commented:

    I went to watch Swan Lake with Tiia and I definitely agree with her review. The review is so detailed and very insightful and accurate. I would definitely go to see a ballet again, even though I don't do dance. The review highlighted elements in detail that I hadn't noticed or was able to explain. Moreover, the review picked up on points not just to do with dance, for example the costumes, set and acting, showing a larger understanding from Tiia of the performance.

  • Katie Lahdelma

    On 24 February 2019, 09:26 Katie Lahdelma commented:

    This review seems great! So detailed and really inspirational. I have never been interested in dance, however, after reading this review I would definitely consider going to go see a ballet performance. It was interesting to see that a ballet performance isn't just ballet, and that the set and acting is important as well.

  • Amber Lahdelma

    On 24 February 2019, 10:24 Amber Lahdelma commented:

    This review is incredibly in depth and comprehensive; it felt as though I was experiencing the performance for myself despite not having watched it nor having much interest in performing arts. Tiia's description of the ballet shows a great level of perception, picking up on more ambiguous details I'm sure most people would not have noticed, displaying her great passion for the art form.

  • Bee Snellen

    On 24 February 2019, 14:14 Bee Snellen Voice Team commented:

    Hi Tiia, I hope you don't mind, but I have moved some of your summary text down to the body text, as the summary was a tad long.

    I have never been fortunate enough to see Swan Lake performed live, but it has always been on the top of my must-see list! Your review just made me want to watch it that much more. A very detailed and thorough review!

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