Swan Lake

Choreography Derek Deane after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov / additional choreography Frederick Ashton
English National Ballet
London Coliseum

Derek Deane’s 1997 Swan Lake in the round last seen in London at the Royal Albert Hall in 2013 has been trimmed to fit a proscenium theatre but it has lost none of its theatrical allure—the sight of the swans rising out of the mist is magical. Twenty-four swans fill the stage in precision snowflake patterning.

The English National Ballet Company is dancing fit to burst—not a step out of place—to match the playing in the orchestra under Gavin Sutherland’s energetic baton. Fortunate to be sitting close to the stage and orchestra, Tchaikovsky’s familiar expressive score is made vivid anew for me.

A pert and perky Julia Conway of the expressive face shines in the first act’s pas de trois in company with the winsome Alison McWhinney and the soaring Daniel McCormick (winner of ENB’s Emerging Dancer Award 2018).

In the pas de douze, I spot Erik Woolhouse flying high in his entrechats. Precious Adams has the most beautiful arms. The national dances are done with suitable panache, Crystal Costa and Barry Drummond particularly good in the exuberant Neapolitan Dance.

Opening with a prologue giving centre-stage prominence to James Streeter’s grand guignol performance as Rothbart (in Peter Farmer’s spectacular feathered cape) turning Princess Odette into a swan, it moves on to the court of the moping Prince Siegfried (his first solo beautifully introspective) and his bouncy friends. Michael Coleman’s tutor provides a bit of comedy and Jane Haworth the haughtiness as the strict Queen, mum to the glum prince.

She demands that her son marry now he has come of age and offers him six princesses to choose from. Lucky boy, but he has seen Odette and is smitten: Isaac Hernández has the looks of a lovelorn teenager and the buoyancy of a boy if not yet the ardour of a man in love.

And it’s the central relationship between lead principals that most of us have come to see. Will sparks fly between Hernández’s Siegfried and Jurgita Dronina’s Odette and Odile? Is Dronina more of an Odette than an Odile? Or vice versa? A testing double role for the ballerina.

Dronina takes Odette’s solos in act two at a soulful pace, as if sighing with the music, and I muse as to whether she can pull off the dangerous to know Odile in act three. She can, guided by her manipulative father Rothbart. She polishes off the thirty-two fouettés no problem.

Hernández is also technically strong with perfect landing and placement, but there is little chemistry between them. Much as I delight in their dancing, I don't catch the passion unto death—and they do die in this version in order to break Rothbart’s spell.

He, in turn, expires grandly on a crag of rock. Streeter almost steals the young couple’s thunder with his exotic performance, tragically bringing triumphant evil into the palace, blighting young love.

It’s a picture book come to life. And a lovely showcase for the dancers: artistic director Tamara Rojo can be very proud of them, coached for this revival production by Ivan Gil Ortega, Irena Pasaríc, Mayumi Hotta, Larisa Lezhnina and Dmitri Gruzdyev. A most enjoyable evening: I could happily see it again.

Reviewer: Vera Liber