Our contributor Bonnie Buyuklieva enjoys the English National Ballet’s classic rendition of Swan Lake.
Swan Lake is, in many ways, a paragon of romantic ballet. This production in particular – part of the English National Ballet’s repertoire – feels like the theoretical minimal for any viewer interested in the genre.
The scenery for this production is nothing less than magical. Peter Famer’s set brings Tchaikovsky’s iconic No. 10 Scene to dramatic life. A smoke-filled-stage, with water-washed décor cast in colours of teal and ultramarine echoing those of the enchanted lake – such a vision is perfectly compliments the lonesome sounds of a flute solo and accompanying strings. Against this background, the corps of fifteen-odd swans in white was a delight to behold.
Faithful to the choreography by classical ballet masters Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, Swan Lake is characterized by delicate virtuosity and dramatic finesse. Every épaulement is imbued with meaning, whilst tense emotion drips from carefully positioned fingertips. Consider, for example, the leitmotif of the embrace between Prince Siegfried and his beloved Odette. Sensing doom, she is reserved in her affections, brushing away the prince’s arms one by one in a tired, repetitive motion. She avoids his gaze with eyes heavily locked on a distant point on stage, only to finally give into their intertwined fate by looking up to his eyes for a destiny-changing glance. Choreographer Derek Deane didn’t take much liberty to deviate from the subtle, graceful style of the late 1800s. The choice to keep the hand-holding-hops to the iconic Danse des petit cygnes No.13 ensures that the EBN’s 9th Swan Lake ticks all the boxes.
Despite its marginal importance in the plot, the pas-de-troi with Julia Conway, Alison McWhinney & Daniel McCormick was an unexpected treat. Conway and McCormick had chemistry rivalling that of the main couple. Then again, the protagonists were very strong when alone. Jurgita Dronina executed the dual role of Odette, the feather-frail victim of the sorcerer’s curse, and Odile, his manipulative and power-crazed flesh-and-blood daughter, with impressive range. Similarly, Issac Hernandez, as Prince Siegfried was excellent in representing the face of youth, innocence and naïve love. His expressions are reserved, like those of a child focused on and confused by something new, but his grand jetés are powerful and liberating.
Although James Streeter makes for a stage-present Rothbart (as he should be), the bad-owl-antagonist feels underdeveloped. Why does he immediately make himself cosy on the throne next to Siegfried’s Mother in Act III? Also, as Odette and Prince Siegfried dance – must he hover awkwardly around the couple to show he is pulling the strings in the making of this match? Despite Streeter’s impressive performance, the choreography of the antagonist seemed an unfortunate device used to move the plot forward.
Throughout its history there have been many iterations of and alternate endings to Swan Lake. The EBN went for a classic selection – four acts with a tragic final. A good choice, with reservations only on the deux ex machina ending (indeed, for a piece staged in the 21st century, the couples’ assent via golden chariot into the heavens was, perhaps, a tad too much). Despite some shortcomings, the final verdict is clear. There are dozens if not hundreds and thousands of Swan Lakes to be seen – but if you were to see only one, then this EBN production would be the one to watch, the quintessential performance that does justice to the classic.
The English National Ballet’s Swan Lake was performed at the London Coliseum on the 3rd of January. For more information click here.