January 3, 2018
Derek Deane’s Swan Lake has always looked at its best on a proscenium stage like the Coliseum. It may have spectacle in-the-round at the Royal Albert Hall, but here it gains so much in intimacy and detail. It also seems to have been refreshed, with sets and costumes looking vibrant.
Opening in an autumnal setting makes perfect sense and sets Siegfried up for a spot of migratory swan hunting. Colours are lovely, with pastel yellows popping up amongst red, orange and brown. Opening dances are performed with verve as Siegfried sulks on a bench. Mike Coleman as ever creates a fully-rounded character in the Master of Ceremonies, an avuncular man doing his best to cheer up the mopey prince. Dances don’t do it for him? No problem, the MC produces a crossbow. Nothing like swan-stalking to raise a fellow’s spirits.
The re-setting for the lake allows plenty of time for the fog to clear somewhat and the curtain rises on a magical moonlight setting with initially invisible swans rising from the wreaths of mist as if it itself had suddenly taken corporal avian form.
The English National Ballet corps were on fine form, well-drilled and disciplined, and moving as one with Alison McWhinney and Jia Zhang excellent as the big swans. The cygnets were step and head perfect although why no-one dresses them in grey marabou I have never fathomed.
As Rothbart, James Streeter projected plenty of character, not only when he entered the ballroom but also in owl mode, a point where even the best of productions tends to falter. He has a splendid pair of wings but also an enormous stage presence. He is never reduced to empty flapping and menacing gestures but fully conveys the sense that those wings are stirring up malicious magic, manipulating movement and extending his reach beyond human hand. At one point he engulfs Odette, reminding me of a real battle, roles reversed, between a swan and a Canada goose when the swan attempted to smother the goose in his wings.
Isaac Hernández lacks the stature of the classic danseur noble and as Siegfried struggled to make up the difference with strong character projection. His dancing is accurate. He can certainly jump and turn, and his partnering is considerate but his character rarely made it over the footlights, despite at one point and for no reason that seemed fathomable, walking to the front of the stage and glaring at the audience. A very odd piece of direction. Similarly, he walks right round the swans when they first appear and then stands off to raise his crossbow. Why waiver at the edge when he had them at point blank range. Somehow though, it failed to excite.
Jurgita Dronina’s Odette is pliant and soft although here she lacked vulnerability and seemed all too keen to melt into Siegfried’s arms as quickly as possible. She conveyed her plight of being caught, literally and figuratively, by Rothbart and Hernandez, who combined to create a sense of a bird barely stopped in flight on the lifts. Her Odile is less successful, although she too can turn with ease, knocking off doubles in the fouettés while barely moving from the spot, but there wasn’t much sense of her guile and even less that she was in control and in collusion with Rothbart. She seemed just as much under his spell as Odile, leaving little room for much in the way of distinction between the roles.
The national dances make an excellent contrast to the white acts. It was especially delightful to see Barry Drummond in the Neopolitan, ably partnered by Crystal Costa. He has long been one to watch rising from the ranks and proves that he is a well-rounded actor dancer as well as good technician.
Conductor Gavin Sutherland gave a nuanced presentation of the score and brought out plenty of subtleties and contrasts in this most glorious of the master’s ballets. Splendid playing too from Gareth Hulse on first oboe, backed up of course by true ensemble playing from the English National Ballet Philharmonic.
Swan Lake is followed by at the Coliseum by Manon from January 16-20.