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Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake

Suzanne Yanko

Artists from the Australian Ballet and its School provided fine dancing but also emotional ‘colour’ as this story unfolded.
Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake

Saturday matinees of the ballet Swan Lake are usually crowded with very young aspiring ballerinas, but on this occasion adults comprised most of the very appreciative audience.

Word has evidently got around that, while children can enjoy the dancing (as the little girl in front of us did), Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake is an adult work: a psychological drama in which acting is intrinsic to the choreography and the dancers’ whole bodies and faces express their feelings.

‘We didn’t want any more balletic gestures,’ Murphy himself told me in the interval – he and Janet Vernon were also seated near us, and smiled broadly throughout the performance. As well the creators of this ballet might. The principal dancers were Leanne Stojmenov as Odette and Amy Harris as the worldly Baroness Rothbart (Murphy’s more believable reinvention of the traditional evil magician). Prince Siegfried (Andrew Killian) was the worthy object of both women’s affections if judged by his dark good looks, but Siegfried failed the character test in terms of constancy and truth.

Murphy’s re-interpretation of the classical ballet draws on a real ‘eternal triangle’ within the British monarchy that had an unexpectedly tragic end. The dancing was suitably charged with emotion, from Siegfried’s rejection of Odette that started at their gorgeously staged wedding, to the Baroness’s implacable lack of pity for her rival. Harris danced superbly, with a proprietary air in her dealings with Siegfried that did not endear her character to the audience but was a faultless piece of acting.

Melbourne’s own Andrew Killian was apparently new to the role (although he had played the Prince in last year’s ‘traditional’ production of this ballet). His was an acting tour de force, working with the choreography to demonstrate a love and pity for his young bride that was nevertheless no match for his obsession with the Baroness. This lent a poignancy to his pas de deux with Odette, with their dances beautifully supported by violin solos from Orchestra Victoria under the baton of Nicolette Fraillon.

At this performance, principal artist Leanne Stojmenov as Odette played the only truly likeable main character (apart from Halaina Hills’ Duchess-to-be, whose romps onto the stage provided just the right amount of comic relief). Stojmenov’s dancing was peerless, informed by a dramatic understanding of her character from initial delight in her Prince and her wedding to her final desolation beside the swans’ cold dark lake.

Odette’s initial humiliation and rejection saw Act One end with her descent into frantic madness (the dance reminiscent of Giselle’s in its intensity and technical brilliance) but it was Act Two that called on Stojmenov’s absorption of the character as her loneliness and grief called up a means of an escape, to join the swans by the lake. (Lovers of the traditional Swan Lake will appreciate that Murphy’s clever choreography allows them their favourite swan dances – and other character dances – by repositioning them at more suitable times within the work.)  

Artists from the Australian Ballet and its School provided not only fine dancing but also emotional ‘colour’ as this story unfolded, with not a step out of place as far as one could see. Yet another triumph for Graeme Murphy and his Swan Lake – and the company that has seen yet another triumphant return to the stage.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5


Swan Lake (2002)

The Australian Ballet

Choreography: Graeme Murphy

Creative associate: Janet Vernon

Music: Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Concept: Graeme Murphy, Janet Vernon and Kristian Fredrikson

Set and costume design: Kristian Fredrikson

Lighting design: Damien Cooper, reproduced by Graham Silver

M.C. Escher’s Rippled Surface© 2008 The M.C. Escher Company – The Netherlands, all rights reserved.


Odette: Leanne Stojmenov

Prince Siegfried: Andrew Killian

Baroness: Amy Harris

Orchestra Victoria conducted by Nicolette Fraillon


State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne

22 June

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Suzanne Yanko is the editor of She has worked as a reviewer, writer, broadcaster and editor for Fairfax Digital, the Herald-Sun, the South China Morning Post, Radio 4 Hong Kong, HMV VOICE - and, for six years, ArtsHub.   Email: