Swan Lake by The United Ukrainian Ballet
By Deni Kirkova|
In an extraordinary first, refugee dancers from the best ballet houses in Ukraine gathered at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) to perform Swan Lake.
As hosts of world-class ballet since 2015, we welcomed The United Ukrainian Ballet (TUUB) to our Plenary theatre for five performances with confidence that we could do their vision justice. Award-winning dancers from Ukraine’s finest ballet houses including The National Opera of Ukraine, Kharkiv Opera Theatre, Odesa Ballet Theatre and Lviv Ballet Theatre formed TUUB in The Hague, Netherlands after fleeing their homeland. And this 21-23 October 2022, we had the privilege to host their majestic performance of one of the greatest ballets of all time.
Among more than 50 performers, Kateryna Chebykina danced an impossibly elegant Odette, Oleksii Kniazkov a passionate Prince Siegfried full of resolve and Pavlo Zurnadzhi an ever so sprightly court jester. Meanwhile, the unforgettable corps de ballet moved in magical unison as glimmering swans and in showstopping ballroom scenes.
Making full use of the stage space and setup solutions, the production came to life with spectacular success at MCEC’s Plenary theatre.
Event organiser Theatre Tours International first brought ballet to MCEC seven years ago. Lizzie Coles, Executive Producer, said: “The thing that’s surprising for many people that we know is that the venue fits surprisingly well creatively. When people think of plenary spaces and convention centres, they don’t necessarily think of full theatrical capabilities. While this one doesn’t have every single capability, it has more than most similar spaces.
“MCEC’s Plenary theatre has adequate height in the grid above the stage. And it has systems that we can make operationally similar to a theatrical fly tower - automated bars that we can use to fly scenery in and out. This is a lot more than most convention centres. In other similar spaces, we’d have to build a mother grid system that allows us to lower and raise curtains.
“In a theatre, the curtain goes up via fly tower allowing you to do quick scene changes. While MCEC doesn’t have that, [Technology Services Planner] Johnboy Davidson has a system that works for a production like Swan Lake where change of scene happens almost with a full set.”
While behind-the-scenes we’ve got fully workable capabilities for the ease of production, our Plenary space offers a luxury experience for attendees. Lizzie says: “For me, from a patron point of view, I call the seating ‘business class seating’. Because, unlike many theatres, it’s a lot newer and a lot more comfortable in comparison. Plus, the way it’s laid out and the nature of the production combined mean no seat’s a bad view.
“The stage is a good stage size for the number of seats, so despite the large space, it’s a warm-feeling auditorium. It doesn’t feel like a vast cavernous space. The architecture will have a lot to do with that.
“Another thing I really enjoy is the location on South Wharf. It just feels a lot more relaxed and chilled than when something is in the middle of the city. When often patrons are running late or coming straight from work, the environment all around is calming.”
At the end of the stunning performance, the crowd stood as TUUB raised Ukrainian flags with Make Dance Not War emblazoned on the front and sang their national anthem with grit and pride. A teary, roaring standing ovation followed from the crowd, many dressed in the signature azure blue and lemon yellow in solidarity with their cause.
Touring the UK, Europe and Australasia, the powerful and moving interpretation of Swan Lake united artists and art lovers through the tragedy of war and hope for the future.
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