Don’t come to Fredrik Rydman’s Swan Lake Reloaded expecting flocks of perfectly aligned swans or showy fouettés. In this street production, set in the modern day, the “swans” are prostitutes controlled by Rothbart as a kind of drug-dealing pimp. There’s no place for subtlety here: the “swans”, who wear white, feathered jackets and thigh-high PVC boots, are framed by red windows as if on the streets of Amsterdam.
I have two main gripes with Rydman’s plotting. If Rothbart (Daniel Koivunen) just wants money from his “workers”, why couldn’t the obviously affluent Siegfried simply pay him to save Odette? And surely the dramatic tension of the whole story is lost if the women could just walk away, as they do at the end of this? 19th-century ballets are notoriously thin on plots; this gritty take needed more.
There are some great set pieces. Siegfried’s friends (Alexandro Duchén and Mario Perez Amigo) shine with some popping and locking in a brightly coloured, cartoon-like scene, while Robert Malmborg’s caved-in knees and outreaching arms highlight Siegfried’s alienation. At least they are making an attempt to jazz up the normally dull first act.
The cygnets scene become a comedy sequence of hands and feet with swivelling Charleston steps, yet the whole thing remains in perfect synchronicity as in the original. The “black act” coda is refashioned into some kind of can-can (and probably more faithful to Tchaikovsky’s original composition, which was intended for the “merry-makers” and only later became Siegfried and Odile’s coda), but it is pleasing to see a nod to the 32 fouettés as the jester performs an impressive series of head spins.
The narrative structure is flawed in places. Take the opening – while the smoke stunningly accentuates Rothbart’s every snakey move, the Minority Report-esque screen through which he “texts” his swans is a bit lame. And as Siegfried’s friends attempt to drag him to Swan Lake, it’s as if Rydman has given up on telling the story through dance and, instead, we hear actual dialogue. Partly this is to compensate for a more glaring problem – with a gun as Siegfried’s birthday gift rather than a crossbow, there’s no real reason for them to head for a hunt by the lake as in the original story.
The choreography also lets the production down at times. While the street dance skills on show are undoubtedly magnificent, Rydman struggles with the ensemble pieces. As a result, we have a group pas de deux that looks like dad dancing, while the prostitutes are all big hair, S&M imagery and writhing with very little substance. It’s much better when Rydman keeps things simple – the initial meeting of Siegfried and Odette (Maria Andersson) is elegant and tender with a series of lovely counterbalances linked by a ribbon.
What Rydman is very good at is teasing out the mood changes in Tchaikovsky’s music. After a scene reminiscent of Renton’s withdrawal in Trainspotting, the “big swans” variation becomes the prostitutes’ heroin trip when they, for the first time, look like the swans of the ballet – their drug high resembling the big swans’ brief moment of joy underlined with delicate sadness.
Elsewhere, Rydman shuffles the order and changes the context of Tchaikovsky’s score, cutting up and remixing its main motif. And so the waltz becomes the introductory passage and the Act III pas de deux turns into a coy, flirty game between Siegfried and female party attendees that does not make good enough use of the lusty music. Confusingly, Odette’s solo is danced not to Tchaikovsky but to a remix of The Dying Swan.
Swan Lake Reloaded also uses contemporary pieces alongside Tchaikovsky’s music. That’s not an issue per se – the overly loud Scandinavian house music works quite well against the deliberately vulgar Swan Lake’s Top Model pastiche. But someone should step away from the decks on some tracks – there were moments that really were not kind to the ear.
The problem lies with picking and choosing of Tchaikovsky’s score. Perhaps this suits the iPod generation all about singles and not albums, but the music has to be experienced in full – taking parts out really loses the drama. Nowhere is this more apparent than the ending, which uses the original Act IV introduction, then jumps straight to the finale. Not only is the music abruptly edited (and this is a problem throughout the show), the production ignores all the music in the final act which builds up to that tragic end. Though Swan Lake Reloaded is a bold – and frankly bonkers – production that is very enjoyable when taken on its own terms, more care with the music – a crucial part of Swan Lake – could and should have been taken.