Swan Lake, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, March 2011

With the recent success of the movie Black Swan, Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake is filling auditoriums, so tickets are getting scarce. In London at the moment both the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet have productions on stage, so there’s a choice. If you want to hear Tchaikovsky, then I’d go to the London Coliseum where Gavin Sutherland’s conducting drives the music forward in a dramatic way, and if you like designs and choreography, then I’d also go to the Coliseum to see the ENB’s production. Its choreography by Derek Deane, based on Ivanov and Petipa, works very well, as do the wonderful designs by Peter Farmer, most beautifully lit by Howard Harrison.

It’s remarkable how the sets and lighting create the sense of a mysterious outer world beyond the peasant domain in Act I, and the courtly world of Act III. In Acts II and IV we are of course in that outer world, lit by a full moon, and this production even gives us a glimpse of it during the overture by showing the evil Von Rothbart capturing a princess and turning her into a swan trapped by his spell.

all photos by Daria Klimentova

As for the dancing and movement on stage, the peasant pas-de-douze in Act I was charmingly performed, creating a sense of space and movement, and the pas-de-quatre, with Begoña Cao, James Forbat, Laurretta Summerscales and Max Westwell was terrific. The conducting gave a tremendous sense of rhythm and forward movement when Jane Haworth entered as Prince Siegfried’s mother, elegant and with a hugely engaging stage presence. The music fits Derek Deane’s choreography perfectly, and the lighting is magical for Arionel Vargas’s solo ‘soliloquy’ as the Prince, with a spot on him as the rest of the stage shades into irreality.

The four cygnets

In Act II, Fabian Reimair’s Von Rothbart moved dramatically, with great presence, and Elena Glurdjidze was a marvellous Swan Queen. Her pas-de-deux with Arionel Vargas, just before the cygnets enter, was beautifully done and she ended it with a palpable sense of regret that she is still trapped by Von Rothbart. His dramatic reappearance in Act III with his two scabrous, bald-headed followers, provided a much needed antidote to the tension between the Prince and his mother, which was very well portrayed.

Elena Glurdjidze as the black swan

When Elena Glurdjidze reappears as the black swan, Von Rothbart exudes elegance and seriousness, before taking a more active — perhaps too active — part in the amorous attraction of the prince towards his scheming daughter. The pas-de-deux between Prince and Black Swan had tremendous rhythmic energy, brilliantly supported by the orchestra under Gavin Sutherland. There was only a slight disconnect between dancer and conductor here, but the forceful playing of the orchestra is the way it should be done, and in Act IV as the Prince enters, the drums beat for all they are worth.

This was a hugely enjoyable performance, and finding tickets is well worth whatever effort it takes. Performances at the Coliseum continue only until March 26 — for more details click here.

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