sun 27/09/2020

Swan Lake, English National Ballet, Coliseum | reviews, news & interviews

Swan Lake, English National Ballet, Coliseum

Swan Lake, English National Ballet, Coliseum

The Agony is worth it for the Ecstasy of a splendid company show

As everyone who has been watching Agony & Ecstasy: A Year with the English National Ballet on BBC Four now knows, Vadim Muntagirov, last night’s Prince Siegfried, and Daria Klimentová, his Odette/Odile, are the ultimate in ballet melodrama: one is a young dancer on the rise, the other reaching the end of a notable career. And both came together to produce a memorable Swan Lake in Derek Deane’s tasteful proscenium production.

One needs to stress the proscenium part, as his 1997 in-the-round production for the Royal Albert Hall, complete with six dozen swans but no sets, has become much more famous. Yet at the Coliseum, in traditional guise, with elegantly restrained sets by Peter Farmer, the virtues of Swan Lake are easier to find.

And Muntagirov and Klimentová both do their utmost to show them to us. Muntagirov, still only 21, has the polish and presentation of a more experienced dancer: everything is finished, tidy, each gesture has been thought through. He has a sense of self as a performer, a sense of who he is as a dancer, and a presence, and is able to convey that to his audience, something that frequently requires years of experience to achieve – and all too frequently is never achieved at all. His technical skills are undeniable – a light, clean jump coming off a remarkably high half-pointe, a beautiful line, good musicality – but it is more than that that makes him stand out.

ENB_Vadim_Daria_Act3_AnnabelMoellerKlimentová (pictured with Muntagirov, right, photograph Annabel Moeller), so much his senior, should, by common logic, be looking after him, helping him along. But, delightfully, it seemed to be the other way around, the young dancer appearing almost maternal in his gentle concern for his partner. Some of the technicalities of partnering still need to be worked on – I suspect from time to time Klimentová came down rather faster than she expected to, and certainly her supported turns needed more help than she was given – but the desire and the emotion behind his partnering was impressive.

Luckily for Muntagirov, in his first performance of this more traditional Swan Lake (he did an in-the-round performance last year), Klimentová was on top form herself. Her Odette is unbearably fragile, well suited to her small frame, and she remains the frozen swan-princess, not daring to open herself to this potential freedom in case it is snatched away. And, of course, it is. Klimentová’s Odile in Act III is as brittle as her Odette was delicate: one is carefully presented to be the flip side of the other. Far better than most does she show us how Siegfried was deceived.

Corps_Photo_Patrick_BaldwinENB’s evening has other pleasures: Crystal Costa and Yat-Sen Chang gave a brilliantly speedy demonstration of Ashton’s fiendish Neapolitan Dance, while Fabian Reimair was Baroquely melodramatic as Rothbart. (I could live quite happily, however, without ever seeing Ashton's pas de quatre, here transposed to Act I; from the difficulties the quartet of dancers were having with its remarkably unwieldy choreography, I suspect they could live happily without it too.)

But most of all, the immaculately poised and musically focused corps (pictured left, photo Patrick Baldwin) in the two white acts reminded us all of the reason Swan Lake has survived to be possibly the most performed ballet in history. It is Lev Ivanov’s compelling take on the heat of Romanticism, channelled through a prism of icy cold Classicism. Together with Tchaikovsky (whose tragically beautiful Act IV waltz is sadly cut in this production), he created an echo chamber of regret, loss and remembrance: emotions that continue to reverberate, that none of us can say we have not shared.

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Judith Flanders should know that Tchaikovsky never composed a waltz for Act 1V. The one referred to is an interpolation of a movement from his Piano Pieces op.72 crassly orchestrated by Riccardo Drigo and endlessly repeated thus destroying its original charming character. The score of Swan Lake is a minefield of cutting, transposing, reordering of movements and interpolations in most choreographic interpretations. Check with David Nice! Strangely enough the only version I know which sticks to Tchaikovsky exactly in the last act is Matthew Bourne's version.

But I think, to confuse matters still further, Judith means the very Russian Danse des Petites Cygnes, which fits into the Act 4 tragedy beautifully, is one of the highlights of the score and isn't a waltz. So does that mean that this production, like the Mariinsky Sergeyev staging, actually replaces it with that dramatically inert waltz-plum? I ask because I'd be quite happy to see this, but not if Act 4 isn't all of a piece - the musical substitution is too banal. And it's not as if the original isn't the shortest and most unified act in ballet.

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