On pointe

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on August 27, 2018.
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Whether you are young or old, conservative or liberal, a painter or a business person, from Venus or from Mars, there is nothing quite as mesmerising as a danseur rising to the tips of his feet, showing off a flawless, polished, pointe technique. Indeed, Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky’s first and most reputable classic ballet currently ongoing in Genting Highlands, truly provides us with this opportunity to be mesmerised. With its complex and intricate choreography as well as a captivating plot line, it promises to keep both its performers — and its audience — on their toes.

The critically acclaimed Ballet West UK crew packed their ballet flats and their talent, and set out to Malaysia on a mission to bring us one of the most popular ballets of all time. Choreographed by Daniel Job — who is also its artistic adviser and ballet master — the four-act play displays a seemingly effortless elegance and poise from start to finish, with the dancers moving in perfect unison, that is unthinkably satisfying to watch.

Having premiered at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow back in 1877, it is reasonable to assume that Swan Lake tells a tired and dated story with limited relevance in today’s day and age. I, personally, could not disagree more. While its relevance to the real world — in any given era — is questionable at best, there is something to be said for the timelessness of a production like this.

The play opens with a celebration of Prince Siegfried’s birthday; the hall brimful of ballet dancers and the attendees absurdly joyous. In silence, the Queen presents her son with a crossbow and requests that he choose one of the guests to be his bride. With a dramatic gesture towards his ring finger and a firm shake of the head, he denies his mother her request and sets out of the castle, stumbling upon a group of white swans, as well as the Swan Princess Odette, that he cannot help but become transfixed by.

We eventually learn that the evil sorcerer Rothbart has had his way with the swans —formerly human girls, he has ensured that each can only be freed by a man who loves none but her. While the ardent feminist in me resents this particular element of the plot line, I can admit that it makes for a swoon-worthy story that every hopeless-romantic-turned-patron-of-the-arts under the sun has probably fallen in love with.

With the interference of a charming enchantress and a sorcerer with an agenda, the fate of the Swan Princess — who Prince Siegfried is clearly spellbound by — is unfortunately guaranteed to be a tragedy. Featuring dancing, deception and ultimately death, this play is far from what some may assume it to be – it is the sophisticated telling of a simple story involving complex themes pertaining to love and beauty coming in various forms.

Ballet West UK does an incredible job of encompassing the gracefulness and lasting nature of Swan Lake, which make it all that it has always been, and remains to be today. The absence of dialogue does not make it feel at all as though the production is lacking. In fact, this allows both creators and audiences to pull focus towards the dancing, music and the mise en scene — what most would consider to be the nitty-gritty of the show — without there being any words to distract from it. On the whole, the unparalleled quality of Tchaikovsky’s music, coupled with the expressive movements of the cast, come together to silently but clearly depict the bittersweet story of this unfading classic.

Swan Lake by Ballet West is presented by The Dance Company in collaboration with Ballet West International Touring Company. It is running until Sunday at the Genting International Showroom. Tickets start from RM388, and can be purchased via www.rwgenting.com.