Swan Lake

Choreography Derek Deane after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with additional choreography Frederick Ashton, music by Tchaikovsky
English National Ballet
London Coliseum

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English National Ballet in Swan Lake Credit: Laurent Liotardo
Emma Hawes and Aitor Arrieta in Swan Lake Credit: Laurent Liotardo
Emma Hawes and Aitor Arrieta in Swan Lake Credit: Laurent Liotardo
Emma Hawes and Aitor Arrieta in Swan Lake Credit: Laurent Liotardo
Aitor Arrieta in Swan Lake Credit: Laurent Liotardo
Emma Hawes and Aitor Arrieta in Swan Lake Credit: Laurent Liotardo
Rhys Antoni Yeomans and Adriana Lizardi in Swan Lake Credit: Laurent Liotardo
English National Ballet in Swan Lake Credit: Laurent Liotardo
English National Ballet in Swan Lake Credit: Laurent Liotardo

Everyone knows Swan Lake—a sweeping statement I know, but if not the actual ballet and its many variations, then storybook versions and indeed Tchaikovsky’s familiar 1877 dramatic score, inspired, apparently, during a visit to his sister’s home in Ukraine in 1871.

Petipa’s version for the Mariinsky opened in January 1895, and here we still are, another January another production. During Soviet times, it was the go-to screensaver on television when regime change or coups happened… to soothe the troubled souls…

Little soothing about Derek Deane’s pacey version, in ENB’s repertoire for some twenty years both in-the-round at The Royal Albert Hall and on the Coliseum proscenium stage. Nor in the interpretation by guest conductor Daniel Parkinson, associate conductor at Northern Ballet since 2019—if ever music drove the dance, this is it. The press night audience loves it and show their appreciation vociferously.

There’s much to love. Principal Emma Hawes is a natural Odette, lyrical, serene, a gentle soul with the most beautiful soft arms. Personality will out and her Odile is not as malevolent as some, though her long balances are supernatural. A superlative performance, her sad solo like a sigh, Hawes is a joy to watch—no wonder the unhappy prince (his mother the Queen insists on him marrying one of six princesses—royal duties and all that…) is caught in her spell.

Principal Aitor Arrieta, a modest, unworldly young man as the awestruck Prince Siegfried, is eclipsed by her in the first act, but comes into his own in the third when professing his love for Odile (thinking she’s Odette) with ballon and ardour.

James Streeter must be able to do Rothbart in his sleep, so often have I seen his delicious, over-the-top fairytale evil performances. The audience enjoy hissing and booing the stage villain. He gets into quite a flap herding his swans with his ginormous eagle wings (design Peter Farmer).

Deane’s version has a prologue, which explains how the princess Odette came to be turned into a swan, and the transformation is magically done. The flock of twenty-four swans are enchanting as they rise from the mystical morning mist.

The cygnets (Julia Conway, Katja Khaniukova, Adriana Lizardi, Francesca Velicu—I might add they also dance other roles, showing ENB dancers’ versatility) are timing perfect, though I must say the Trocks and Matthew Bourne’s satirical takes do invade my mind.

The peasants’ pas de trois is delectably performed by Julia Conway, Katja Khaniukova and Erik Woolhouse, his leaps powerful and bold. The national dances are exciting divertissements, especially Rhys Antoni Yeomans playing to the appreciative audience for all he’s worth in the Neapolitan dance, which suits his ebullience well. And Henry Dowden makes a particular mark in the Czardas, as does Noam Durand as lead peasant.

The company is in fine fettle, surpassing themselves so soon after the seasonal Nutcracker. This run is dedicated to the memory of Dame Beryl Grey (1927–2022), ENB’s president and former artistic director. Her legacy is huge. She first danced Odette / Odile at the age of fifteen. “Swan Lake was a ballet very close to her heart”.

Reviewer: Vera Liber