Swan Lake

Music by Tchaikovsky
Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House
(2011)

Swan Lake production photo

What timing - if timing it is - to open Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House at the same time as Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan opens in the cinemas! Take that! This is what dancing is all about. None of those absurd cinematic clichés

However many times one sees Swan Lake, it still manages to cast its spell, pricking the tear ducts, and prickling the skin. Of course, it depends on the ballerina dancing the swan. But, above all, it is Tchaikovsky's familiar yet sublime music, which speaks for itself so profoundly across time.

The Grand Adagio, the tender declaration of love pas de deux of the second act, the zenith of the Romantic ballet, the melting together of two hearts in absolute unison, is spoken not only by the choreography of the dance but by the exquisite strings of the orchestra, and the orchestra under the baton of Valeriy Ovsyanikov played our heartstrings mercilessly. They earned their ovation.

Zenaida Yanowsky, not seen too frequently at the Royal Ballet (time off for children), taking the choreography at a dangerously slow speed, going to the very edge of the phrase, makes each unfolding and dissolving wondrously heart-stopping. Totally in command of her technique she dares and wins. No wonder the prince is mesmerised. As are we until the dance of the cygnets with the happy innocent beat of their feet interrupt the magic of Odette's charm.

Slow and regal, tall and commanding, every inch the swan queen, she stands out in her dazzling white tutu against her swans in their sylphide long skirts (in Anthony Dowell's theatrical 1985 version, costumes by Yolanda Sonnabend), which burden and dull their line. Could they not have tutus?

The young American, Nehemiah Kish, new from the Royal Danish Ballet, though trained in Canada, makes a very self-assured debut as the prince: lovely dancing and sincere acting, good line, soft feet, an easy manner, but as yet without a memorable presence. This is not a criticism. There is little to fault, but personality will out. At the moment he seems eager to please. Fine partnering and lifting, but no fireworks yet.

And fireworks are required in the Odile Black Swan pas de deux - from both of them.

Rothbart (William Tuckett cast against type is a revelation), the villain in his punk Mohican style haircut, takes some outshining and outwitting at the masked ball, where the divertissement dances distract for a while with pertness from Iohna Loots and Ricardo Cervera in the Neapolitan, and the expressive gypsy air of the Hungarian dances, but it is the seductive melodies of Black Odile's music and dance that taunt and entwine the dazzled prince.

Tricked by Odile's similarity to Odette, the unfaithful prince who has sworn eternal love to Odette now has to redeem himself. Pure love is invincible - it conquers all. Odette prefers to die than be in Rothbart's clutches any longer, and the prince follows suit. United forever in the afterlife, as the music crescendos, Odette and her prince sail across the heavens in the most Romantic of apotheoses. Rothbart is destroyed, the swans are free, and the audience bursts into life with cheers and whistles.

Transported yet again by the bewitching power of music and dance. What is it that makes us susceptible to this blend of Wagnerian and soulful Russian folk tales? Transfixed by the dance, manipulated by the score, we are held captive till the end.

It has been a long enchantment (almost three hours) from the carefree first act, the prince carousing with his friends amongst his subjects who entertain him with their dances. Laura Morera, Yuhui Choe, and Sergei Polunin are brilliantly crisp in their pas de trois, and the company dance with gusto.

In rep till 8th April 2011

Reviewer: Vera Liber