Swan Lake is one of the few ballets that has achieved household recognition. The classic, if somewhat unconventional love story of boy meets girl, boy finds out girl turns into a swan by day, boy accidentally falls for girl's evil doppelganger, is so well-loved that it is a guaranteed seat-filler for ballet companies.
Iconic and wide-ranging in its appeal, it has also been reinterpreted in a multitude of ways - staged with an all-male cast, inspired the psychological thriller movie Black Swan and even become a Barbie flick.
The Singapore Dance Theatre's Swan Lake, however, sticks to the classic Russian style, with glittery white tutus accompanying Tchaikovsky's sweeping score.
Swan Lake is a ballet for the female dancer and the women of the corps de ballet generally turned in fine work. Although they did not always perform with the military precision that is a hallmark of the Swan Lake corps, they outshone their male counterparts. One could not help feeling a sense of unease whenever first artist Etienne Ferrere was about to execute a move requiring multiple rotations.
In contrast, Ferrere's colleague Elaine Heng (who featured in the pas de trois along with him and also performed as one of the Big Swans) moved brightly, growing ever more sure-footed as the night went on. Like the rest of the women, she rose admirably to the task of holding poses for extended periods of time before executing the demanding choreography.
Though relatively modest in number, the female corps of 18 swans exuded enough presence to fill the stage in the second and last act, aided by their voluminous romantic tutus - a smart costume decision - and the forest set.
Another clever choice in this staging is - spoiler alert - the decision to have Prince Siegfried end the evil sorcerer Rothbart (Kensuke Yorozu, decidedly unmenacing and in need of a more villainous costume) by shooting him with the crossbow with which the former almost shot Odette, the swan princess. The poetic full circle is a better way of disposing Rothbart as compared with methods in other stagings, which include stuffing the sorcerer into a hole or inducing a seizure by ripping off one of his wings.
The task of carrying the night fell on the delicate shoulders of Chihiro Uchida, who played the dual role of Odette and her evil doppelganger Odile.
A sweet-faced ballerina, Uchida exhibited grace and control. Each movement was executed with great care for the prettiness of form, but with little variation. As such, much of the swan-like qualities that shaded Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov's choreography were obscured, including the idea of arms as wings that could flutter with quick tremulousness, beat frantically or undulate with grand and ardent passion.
Her acting, on the other hand, lacked openness. One missed the sadness that clings to Odette due to her plight, her initial shyness at meeting Prince Siegfried, the sweeping romance of their White Swan pas de deux and the urgency in a series of entrechat-passe or pique turns (although dancing to pre-recorded music must have been limiting). Uchida's Odile was oddly joyous as well as sexless, a far cry from the full-blooded, manipulative temptress that the Black Swan is supposed to be.
Uchida was partnered by a solid but stone-faced Kenya Nakamura, who as Prince Siegfried looked more at ease unleashing a double tour than he did cracking a smile. Together, they formed a technically passable, unmoving pair, although Uchida was unfortunately felled by the compulsory 32 fouettes in the infamous Black Swan coda.
This Swan Lake is no ugly duckling, it just requires some maturing before it can transform into a full-flighted swan.