‘Swan Lake.’ English National Ballet

The English National Ballet has just concluded a season of Swan Lake that can only be described as a triumph. As much as I admire, and love watching Graeme Murphy’s production of Swan Lake, and this is the Swan Lake Australians now see regularly, there remains deep down a craving for the traditional version, and this is just what ENB delivered.

ENB’s current Swan Lake is choreographed by Derek Deane. This season gave us not his probably better known in-the-round version seen in Australia some years ago, but a glorious, dramaturgically strong, proscenium version that moved from palace to lakeside and back again capturing attention from the moment the curtain rose until it fell.

A beautifully rehearsed and coached corps de ballet danced to perfection in the white acts, moving as one and conjuring up a sense of another world. The dancers were just as impressive as courtiers, always aware of the underlying narrative, never standing around uncertain of how to behave. From a more technical point of view, the corps demonstrated in particular just how expressive the upper body can be when actually used. Such fluidity above the waist seems a little rare to me these days.

As well as dancing brilliantly, the soloists and principals brought to the stage quite outstanding skills of characterisation. This was a production where Rothbart was a significant character (not always the case) and the relationship of Rothbart, Odette and Siegfried to each other was powerfully realised to the extent that I sat on the edge of my seat agog as the final act unfolded. This last act, which so often disintegrates into nothing more than a pretty finale, had great dramatic intensity as Odette struggled against the opposing forces that Rothbart and Siegfried represented.

I saw two casts and was most affected by the cast led by Vadim Muntagirov as Siegfried. Muntagirov, still a very young artist, dances with so much care for the details of ballet technique. He moves with elegance, he executes jumps with the lightness and grace of a panther, and his turns and tours en l’air are beautifully placed and yet exude bravura. In his solo in Act I where he ponders his predicament as a young man, who has been told he must marry but who yearns for something he can’t quite yet articulate, he displayed his refined line and his ability to show emotion through technique.

Muntagirov partnered a very secure Daria Klimentova as Odette/Odile—fragile as Odette, cunning and ultimately triumphant as Odile. Rothbart was danced with flair by Fabian Reimair. Others who stood out to me included Shiori Kase in the Act I pas de quatre at both performances I saw, and Esteban Berlanga who acquitted himself well as Siegfried in the second cast partnering Erina Takahashi.

Apart from having the pleasure of watching some really good technical dancing, and seeing a company so well rehearsed and coached, the greatest joy was seeing a performance that gave full reign to Swan Lake’s brooding Gothic character. Peter Farmer’s design helped but nothing can take the place of intelligent staging. Many bouquets to ENB. Is ballet dead? Certainly not at English National Ballet.

Michelle Potter, 3 April 2011

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