The Australian Ballet

Swan Lake - The Design

Swan Lake

TAB Swan Lake Baynes Sydney Photo Daniel Boud 2016 aa35 1

Design concept

Hugh Colman’s designs for Swan Lake are set in the Victorian era. The scenario he worked from was intercultural marriage, seen in both the English and Russian royal families. The King dies, and with her son being too young to rule, the Queen is at a loss. With her husband gone, the chancellor manipulates her. Military references run throughout the ballet. Hugh Colman’s designs also reference the children of royal families.

The costumes of the Queen in Act III are inspired by Queen Victoria's clothes, with their sashes, borders and opulent decorations.

At the opening of the ballet we see the child Siegfried and his distraught mother at the funeral of his father, the King. The Kings’ body is brought across the Lake and the child Prince is terrified by the mysterious boatman who accompanies the funeral barge.

The set design includes the use of projected images, which appear sparingly in the second and third acts. The purpose of the projections is to emphasise the omnipotence of von Rothbart.

Swan Lake1 900x1200
Swan Lake2 900x1200

Hugh Colman


Hugh Colman is an honours graduate of Melbourne University and trained as a designer with the Melbourne Theatre Company. He has been a resident designer for that company, as well as for the State Theatre Company of South Australia. The major part of his career since 1970 has been working as a freelance designer.

With close to 150 production credits, he has worked for most of the major theatre, dance and opera companies in Australia. These include The Australian Ballet, Opera Australia, Victoria State Opera, State Opera of South Australia, Melbourne Theatre Company, Sydney Theatre Company, State Theatre Company of South Australia and various commercial enterprises. Hugh has lectured in design for various institutions, including RMIT and the VCA; for the latter he directed and designed a production of The Marriage of Figaro in 1994. More recent work includes the set design for Pecan Summer for Short Black Opera. He and director Ailsa Piper adapted a production from Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, which was presented by Bell Shakespeare. Colman also designed set and costumes for Dark Lullaby, Ballet Imperial and Scuola di ballo for The Australian Ballet.

In 2006 Colman won the John Truscott Award for Excellence in Design. Previous Green Room Awards were for The Australian Ballet’s productions of The Sleeping Beauty (1984) and Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.

Swan Lake

Teacher resource kit for secondary schools

Download the full teacher resource