The Australian Ballet’s Psycho Swan Lake

June 17, 2012

Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake (2002) takes a while to get used to. The concept, which is credited to Janet Vernon and Kristian Fredrikson as well as Murphy, centers on a royal adultery that drives princess Odette crazy. During the first-act wedding party Prince Siegried’s affair with Baroness von Rothbart is played out in the open, and so is Odette’s descent into madness. The ménage a trois (done to Tchaikovsky’s lovely though usually complacent pas de trois music) becomes viscerally disturbing. You just want it to stop.

This version has whiffs of Giselle and Manon that can be disorienting.But some threads of continuity pull it together. Odette’s affinity for water is expressed at the outset in a silent prologue with rippling hands, and images of swimming seem to symbolize release. Another example is that the four children in the first-act royal party link hands exactly like the four little swans later on. And those four little swans return even after their nifty bit (which is closer to what we are used to than other sections) to chase down the prince.

Graeme Murphy’s choreography, step for step, lift for lift, is complex and daring. He uses more modern-dance type back curves than most ballet choreographers. His organic patterns for the swans (in Odette’s dream and later) really show them as a flock.


It’s jarring to hear the Black Swan music in the first act. Odette does do fouettés on the fouetté music but to a different effect: Instead of showing power and control, the turns show her spinning out of control. (Janet Vernon told me at intermission that in the original Tchaikovsky score, Black Swan was in the first act. So what seems like a jumble to us may not be as much of a violation as we think.)


Amber Scott is exquisite as Odette; she carries the show. Kristian Fredrikson’s costumes and sets are spectacular, especially the lake, which by the end becomes a dark pool that sucks Odette in. She wins her prince back but loses her life. It’s an even tradeoff. In this version, death is sweet.

Wendy Perron