Swan Lake

Choreography by Derek Deane, music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Raymond Gubby, Royal Albert Hall and English National Ballet
Royal Albert Hall

Osiei Gouneo as Prince Siegfried and Alina Cojocaru as Odette Credit: Laurent Liotardo

Nearly twenty years after it was first staged in the Albert Hall, Derek Deane’s in-the-round, happy-ending version of Swan Lake still delights with its swan flock of 60 streaming through dry ice to people the vast area.

Jugglers and acrobats add to the numbers, bounding in with the townsfolk and courtiers who streak down the aisles through the stalls or sinisterly accompany the evil magician Baron Rothbart who has turned girls into swans.

Scenic elements are limited to the space below the orchestra and huge chandeliers for the third act court. Howard Harrison’s lighting and Peter Farmer’s costumes create atmosphere and provide colour.

In the first act, with the common folk in brown and cream tones, the court look as though they have stepped down from a medieval tapestry, with Prince Siegfried in white tights and sparkling brocade. The lake scenes are filled with white tutus, through which sweeps, menacing, huge-winged Rothbart. The third “black” act is all rich reds and forest greens, apart from the black-clad Prince and Odile, Rothbart’s daughter.

At first, the stage is continually busy without particular focus apart from the rather heavy-handed comedy of Michael Coleman’s fat, tippling tutor. Numbers thin for specific group dances, which concentrates attention but, to ensure that every part of the audience gets a fair share of the action, choreography is duplicated in several orientations.

For instance, the first act pas de trois becomes a pas de douze, four groups facing out to different parts of the audience, a technique often repeated. Lines of dancers may turn to face in opposite directions to avoid half the house getting a rear view. The effect of such a large corps de ballet totally still in counterpoint to the soloists’ movement or subtle stirring reflecting it adds emotional impact. These swans sometimes seem not her but an expression of her soul.

Both leading dancers are making their debuts in these roles in this Albert Hall season, as are colleagues on other nights. Long-necked Cuban Osiel Gouneo is an elegant Prince Siegfried giving great support to his partner with lifts that emphasis the fluidity of Alina Cojocaru’s Odette. This is a sensitive prince, giving a moment of kindly approval to the princess his mother offers to choose from. He exudes joy in the jetés and tours of act 3 when he believes he is going to marry his swan love, a picture of pain when realises what has actually happened.

Cojocaru complements that level of feeling and interpretation. She gives a hard edge that is totally in character to Odile’s showpiece dance of triumph, her fouettés sharp and precise. This is indeed the daughter of James Streeter’s malevolent Rothbart who strikes terror whenever he appears.

Swan Lake is a ballet with an uncomplicated plot, though full of emotion, with the act 3 packed with vitality. The lively Spanish dance and Czardas are well executed and Crystal Costa and Fernando Bufalá’s Neapolitan dance a delight, but all 120-strong cast contribute to the pleasure of the evening, including the youngsters from Tring Park School who join the townsfolk in act 1 to front some of their dancing. It's an evening to enjoy.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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