The black swan is set to fly

West Australian Ballet's Alexa Tuzil for Swan Lake. Photo by Finlay Mackay and Wunderman Thompson
West Australian Ballet’s Alexa Tuzil for Swan Lake. Photo by Finlay Mackay and Wunderman Thompson

West Australian Ballet artistic director Aurelien Scannella will pay homage to his adopted country in 2022 when he stages an exciting new WA version of Swan Lake as a grand finale to the company celebration of their 70th year.

“Our new Swan Lake will be a uniquely WA version, interweaving the classical ballet and the McGuire family totem, the Black Swan,” Scannella tells Have a Go News.

“Our Swan Lake will be set in Perth, starting in Fremantle Harbour at a time that Balladong Wadjuk Noongar man Barry McGuire explained relations were good between the British colonialists and First Nations people. Our main character, Sebastian, meets with an Aboriginal elder played by Barry who tells him the story of how swans became black.

“When thinking of what WA Ballet’s next big project will be, I knew we couldn’t do an ordinary Swan Lake. We needed a version that will build the identity of our company and state.

“At the same time, I was meeting with Barry who told me about the totem of his family which is also the icon of WA — the black swan.

“As a part of this totem, Barry’s family own a dance about how the white swan became black, a dance that is thousands of years old. When we spoke of this dance, I was also telling Barry the story of Swan Lake and the synergies behind the stories were amazing.

“Barry made the incredible offer to do this dance on-stage with First Nations dancers from his family and, considering that this Black Swan dance hasn’t been performed publicly since 1902, it will be a momentous occasion.

“The Black Swan dance elders decided to put it away when relations weren’t good between the British colonialists and First Nations people. It’s very special that it will be performed for the first time in 120 years on-stage as part of our classical ballet.

“We will also have our award-winning creative team from Dracula returning to create the work; Krzysztof Pastor as choreographer, Phil R Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith as set and costume designers and Jon Buswell as lighting designer, all working alongside Barry and myself. 

Swan Lake will still be a classical ballet with our dancers performing the ballet, while Barry and his family, the Gya Ngoop Keeninyarra (One Blood dancers) will perform the Black Swan dance.”

Belgian-born Scannella, who also celebrates 10 years heading the company this year, says it has been through a profound evolution in the past decade. “We went from strength to strength, we never stopped moving forward, creating new works, performing. WA Ballet has never looked so strong and beautiful.

“We are a company of the 21st century, reflecting the society we are living in. The number of performances has increased each year. Last year, despite the challenges and lockdowns, we managed to have 94 shows.

“Today, WA Ballet employs 40 full-time professional dancers with a total of nine nationalities in our troupe. They come from Australia, Cuba, Japan, France, England, Italy, New Zealand, the United States and the Philippines.”

Scannella says the company’s repertoire is rich and diverse. Over the past decade it has premiered 12 new full-length story ballets alongside 37 new contemporary short works.

“The company needed to perform more so we introduced an additional contemporary season called STATE at the State Theatre Centre of WA. We also returned to Crown Theatre for the first time in a decade and toured state-wide, nationally and internationally.

“It’s been a busy 10 years.”

The company’s 2022 season starts in its traditional way, with Platinum: Ballet at the Quarry at the Quarry amphitheatre in City Beach. Featuring four exhilarating works, Platinum is an apt introduction to the company’s 70th anniversary for the February season.

After the Quarry season, the company will mark its jubilee with a sparkling gala ball at Crown Towers Perth on March 12.

The company’s creative favourite, Genesis, returns in March while Septime Webre’s award-winning Alice (in Wonderland)
returns to His Majesty’s Theatre in May. In June the company’s newest contemporary season, STATE plays at the State Theatre Centre of WA with three scintillating works.

In September, His Majesty’s will see a golden work created by one of Australia’s leading choreographers, Natalie Weir, who will premiere a work performed to JS Bach’s iconic Goldberg Variations

Going forward, Scannella says there is a challenge around bringing interstate and international creatives to Perth. “While our state government has done a great job, we are looking forward to having our world-class choreographers, designers and creatives join us in person again.

“My brain never stops working and creating, which causes me many sleepless nights. I still have a lot to achieve with our team at WA Ballet. Our future looks very exciting,” he said.