Ballet is coming to Cork this month and it’s coming in style writes Siobhán Meehan who talks to Swan Lake Artistic Director Alan Foley
I’m introduced to Alan Foley in his office in the Firkin Crane in Shandon on the north side of Cork City. The walls are covered with newspapers clippings and articles documenting the career of one of Irelands greatest ballet dancers. The first Irish ballet dancer to be accepted to the world renowned Vaganova of the Kirov Ballet School in Leningrad, Russia, now retired, Alan has turned his hand to directing and is currently the artistic director of Swan Lake taking place in Cork Opera House this month.
“Swan Lake really is the pinnacle of ballet, everyone knows it. But it really is a difficult ballet to do as it requires a very big and knowledgeable cast. They all need to be mature dancers and for us to be able pull this off is quite an achievement” says Cork City Ballet founder Alan Foley who has mixed it up a little with this production with the inclusion of male swan dancers “I just wanted to do something different and I thought it would be lovely to exploit the male technique because obviously you have male swans as well. So yes normally you have just the female swans but this year I thought to myself I
’m going to put six male swans in there too. They are dressed in black while the girls are in the usual white swan tutus. I’m hoping that adds an extra dimension to the show.” The production also plays host to two of the worlds living greats in ballet, Nikita Shcheglov and Sofia Gumerova who are also graduates of the 250 year old Vaganova of the Kirov Ballet School. “It really is wonderful to have them here.” Alan continues, “ As the principles of the show they have to inspire the rest of the company. It is a great coup to have them ,it’s a wonderful opportunity to see dancers of this calibre. Nikita is extraordinary and Sofia is the nearest thing to a swan. One of the Russian critics once commented that she would look like a swan in just jeans and a t shirt so it just doesn’t get any better that that does it?”
Alan and his co-choreographer Yuri Demakov have altered the usual tragic ending of Swan Lake instead opting for a fairy-tale twist. “Normally the ending is very tragic. The Swan Queen realises that she can never be with the man she loves and so throws herself into the lake and drowns and he throws himself in after her. I thought with all the doom and gloom around at the moment it would be different if the evil guy gets obliterated. So that
’s what happens, the power of their love over powers him so that he dies and the two swans are reunited”. This is a twist on the traditional story that has often been done in the past in Russian ballet Alan explains “In the time of Soviet Russia, the government insisted that there be a happy ending, they weren’t allowed to do the original tragedy. Most companies still stick with the tragedy, but I’ve taken a little bit of artistic licence and put a different twist on it”.
Compared to our Russian counterparts, ballet is a relatively new concept to the Irish theatre going audience, but Alan is confident the demand for ballet is there. “Oh yes it’s very popular and has been for years. For example when the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin opened last March they also had a production of Swan Lake which was sold out 3 months before they opened. We are very lucky that our production is selling really well. It’s such a beautiful story, you
’ve got Tschakovsky’s glorious score with some of the most wonderful music he ever wrote, you’ve got magnificent dancing the epitome of the classical technique, there are stunning costumes and beautiful scenery. It’s all there, even if you get bored with the dancing you can just listen to the music. That’s what I love about ballet the most, there are so many elements packaged together in one“.
Alan is also the director of the Colaiste Stiofain Naofa‘s full time dance course which is thriving with fresh dance talent. “ We have 24 full time students in the course. Ballet has become hugely popular around Cork city and county which is brilliant. It’s fantastic that these young students can go to a ballet like Swan Lake in Cork and see exactly how its meant to be done“.
Swan Lake opens in Cork Opera House on Wednesday 24th of November as 8pm until Saturday 27th of November, with a matinee on Saturday at 2.30pm concluding with a special gala performance on Saturday evening at 8pm.
Originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Motley