June 20, 2021
To some, it might seem a brave choice by School of Ballet Theatre UK Artistic Director, Founder and Principal Christopher Moore, although it says much that he thought they could pull it off. Even the big national ballet conservatoires usually take the ‘bits-and-pieces’ approach for their end-of-year performances, presenting a collection of short works and excerpts, mixing contemporary with classical, and sometimes more. For the School of BTUK end-of-year digital streaming, Moore not only went 100% classical, but for Swan Lake, in full, with all dancing roles performed by the students except Siegfried and Odette/Odile.
For all their star principals, it is the corps on which companies often take most pride, however; and they are probably more important in Swan Lake than anywhere else, although Act II of Giselle runs it close. While Tchaikovsky’s music certainly plays its part, it is the corps who create the ethereal lakeside scene. It is they who frame the action and who often steal the attention. Those characters in the background are important in other scenes too. It’s an important skill to learn and being involved in such a big production gives students invaluable experience. And, let’s not forget that, elsewhere, Swan Lake also gives plenty of opportunity for individual moments too.
While they appear in Act II, creating that initial dark, moody moonlit atmosphere, it’s at the beginning of Act IV of Moore’s production that the women of the corps really get the chance to shine. For any group of individual artists, moving as one in unison or otherwise knitting together precisely is incredibly difficult. Yet, in that long ensemble dance, the students do largely pull it off, and that’s even accounting for the fact that film can be a very unforgiving medium. Perhaps it’s the way the camera draws the focus but somehow it allows the eye to spot anything even a split second out of step or a fraction out of place that live would be missed.
But back to the beginning, where Moore adds a neat narrative touch by briefly letting us meet Odette before she falls under Rothbart’s spell. As the magician, the darkly feathered Paul Meneu immediately cuts a commanding figure (helped by some enormous wings), his cold eyes especially apparent.
At Siegfried’s birthday celebrations, the ensemble looked genuinely happy and natural in the pleasing ensemble dances. Ably supported by Louisa Bratby and Mhairi Wallace, Michael Maple stood out in the Peasant pas de trois for his airy, light leaps and great turns. Moore also follows the Russian tradition of having a Jester. It’s a tricky character to get right, so easy to overdo to the point of becoming tiresome, but Vilhelm Koskela gets it pretty much spot on, and later shows what a fine virtuoso dancer he is too.
As Odette, BTUK principal Miriam Konnerth is deliciously delicate and fragile. Her ambiguity seen in conflicting signals is perfect. When fellow principal Ewan Hambleton’s Siegfried reveals himself, she moves away and makes to hide but sneaks a look as if she wants to be found. She runs away, arms like wings as though she wants to fly away, but never that far. Later, when they are together, she pulls away, but always, always comes back. And all the time, her face tells us she is resigned to what she is.
At the ball, Konnerth is a calculatingly cool Odile. Everything is sharper, her face taut with a thin smile that suggests immediately this is not going where a certain young man thinks it is. Even her fingers seem longer, like daggers ready to strike. She is seductively evil, leading Siegfried on beautifully like a cat playing with a mouse while Meneu’s Rothbart prowls in the background. There’s a delicious moment when she looks away and smiles to herself. She’s knows her prey is well and truly snared. Her dancing is utterly confident too. As with her Odette, she makes every moment count, every balance is held, and it’s all rounded off near perfect set of fouettés.
Hambleton is a fine Siegfried, a little reserved, but certainly noble, which goes for his attentive and considered partnering too.
Previously in the Act III ballroom, princesses Katie Norman (a nicely, slightly sultry Spanish), Lois Bullough (Polish) and Freya Hough (Italian), all sparkle as they try unsuccessfully to catch Siegfried’s eye. It’s Rosie Hall’s Hungarian princess who really catches the eye, though. Apart from a winning smile, picked up wonderfully by the camera, she has the bonus of dancing alone, albeit with four supporters behind. And she makes the most of it, hanging onto lovely extensions or well-held balances for that extra split-second.
Moore opts for a happier conclusion than some. There’s no Siegfried and Odette leaping to their deaths, which doesn’t really make any sense anyway, but with Rothbart vanquished, he just leaves us with Odette and Siegfried in embrace.
Filmed in BTUK’s new studio theatre in Hinckley and using the company’s Swan Lake costumes and sets, the production looks a treat too. Daniel Hope, Hayley Turner and Val Plant’s costumes are beautiful as ever. The palace is formal without being overly opulent, while the lakeside is dreamy, much helped by Ryan Phillips’ lighting.
It is a super production all round, one in which everyone plays their part well. Swan Lake has never been my favourite ballet, but I did rather enjoy this. Christopher Moore, his artistic staff and all the dancers should be proud. Swan Lake in full? Maybe not so crazy after all.