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Swan Lake

(reviewed at the Corn Exchange, King’s Lynn on 5 October)

The Russian State Ballet & Opera Theatre of Astrakhan has brought an intriguing production of Swan Lake to Britain for its autumn tour (3 October to 3 December); late winter tour dates are yet to be announced. Artistic director Konstantin Uralsky sets the story in the early 19th century, reminiscent of the “peace” social scenes of War and Peace. The first act costumes are attractive and the dancers equally so with neat footwork and elegant arms.

In this version Prince Siegried (Danil Sokolov)’s tutor is Von Rothbart (Maksim Melnikov), a black-clothed mentor gliding through the palace with a disquieting aura of menace. The swans are his private preserve, a secret magical theatre to which he inveigles the brooding, restless Siegfried – though you wouldn’t know that if you hadn’t read the programme notes. It’s much less of a mime and more of a dancing role than in other versions and well executed.

Benno is danced by Vslovod Tabachuk, whose jumps and turns provide some of the evening’s most exciting moments. Sokolov is somewhat upstaged (and out-performed) by his Mercutio-like friend throughout. The dainty pas de quatre performed as entertinment for the Queen (Anna Nikonova) is danced by Karina Manopova, Victoria Chuvyleva, Arthur Almukhametov and Bulat Gareev; the boys are less assured in their footwork, jumps and landlings than the girls.

When we reach the first lakesid scene, the corps de ballet provide the right mixture of technique and lyricism. Unfortuntaely Anastasia Turchina’s Odette is short on visual expression and personality; she dances with assured, well-finished arabesques and pointe work and Sokolov partners her throughout sympathetically. But still that vital spark and suggestion of instant, total passion proves elusive.

For Act Three we are in the middle of a costume ball with early Renaissance headdresses for the women and houppelande gowns for the male courtiers. Enter Odile (Maria Stetc) with her sidway glances and clever use of her arms to all-but mimic Odette’s own movements. She pulls off the firework fouettés and jétés so that it’s no wonder this malleable young prince is instantly besotted.

Eather than the usual ghostly apparition at a window as Odette recognises how she has been betrayed, there follows a well thought-out pas de quatre for Odette and Odile, Siegfried and Von Rothbart in which each pair shadows the other’s steps. For the final scene, the backcloth shows a sythe of a moon, stabbing down into the water which will finally envelop the lovers and their nemesis. Again, the corps de ballet shine as the real stars of the production.

Swan Lake (with several alternative casts) can also be seen at the Grove Theatre, Dunstable on 9 October, the Key Theatre, Peterborough on 14 October, the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft on 19 October, the Harlow Playhouse on 20 Octobe and the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 8 November.

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Filed under Ballet & dance, Reviews 2016

Swan Lake

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 19 April)

Northern Ballet has never forgotten that its original title was Northern Ballet Theatre. Artistic director David Nixon’s apprach to both the classics of the ballet repertoire and to commissioned new work uses the strength of the drama inherent in each plot just as much as the lyricism of the traditional choreography.

His casts need to act as well as dance. His new production of Swan Lake retains the outline of the Petipa and Ivanov scenario but with some very 21st century twists. Odette (Martha Leebolt at the performance I saw) is no fragile princess trapped by an evil magician.

Rather, she is in that seductive yet sinister tradition of the beautiful creature who materialises out of the water to lure a young man into her realm. From the naiads and sirens of Greek myth through those river-haunting undines and lorelei to the rusalye and the shape-shifting seal-women of Scandinavian legend – not to mention those familiar through Grimm and Andersen – they bring disaster for humans.

Idilia (Abigail Prudames) is of the earth but still vulnerable to rejection. Specifically she is of New England at the end of the 19th century. Both Anthony’s father (Hironao Takahashi) and mother (Victoria Sibson) want her to marry their son (Tobias Batley) who has grown into a personable but exceedingly troubled young man.

In childhood Anthony had seen his younger brother drown; now he haunts the lakeside where the tragedy occurred while coping with a realisation that his feelings for his best friend Simon (Nicola Gervasi) are trembling between accustomed comradeship and something much more passionate and sexual.

Horse-playing friends, with Ashley Dixon outstanding as the one who never quite pulls off the athleticism of the rest of the group, fail to involve Anthony in their sport. The choreography for the boys involves sequences of leaps and lifts, all very well executed with impeccable timing. Whirls and twirls pervade the pas de trois for Anthony, Simon and Odilia.

We revert to more familiar sequences when Anthony is once more alone at the lakeside. In the fading light Odette and her fellow “swans” emerge from the rushes and captivate Anthony. He overcomes his fear of the lake to join them, much to a returning Simon’s consternation.

At Anthony’s coming-of-age party, Odilia stands out among the preening young women in her white Parisian gown and the merrymaking culminates in another pas de trois for her with and equally entranced Simon which is both lyrical and demandingly intense.

By the third act, Odilia and Anthony have married, but he cannot escape the influence of Odette. Simon’s attempts to distract his friend simply result in a mutual and passionate embrace, which horrifies Odilia. Back at the lakeside, the dance of the four cygnets suggests embryonic vengeful Wilis as we return to the dance sequences for the swans.

Whether or not you count Anthony’s final plunge into their realm as a happy ending is a moot point. Dramatically, it all flows well enough, though the transitions from new, more contemporary choreography with the familiar 19th century one is not always seamless.

I had the impression that some audience members were slightly bemused. The Northern Ballet Sinfonia under Brett Morris made John Longstaff’s arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s score (with subtractions and additions) sound fresh and sympathetic to the performers on stage as well as in the pit. Dave Gillan’s designs and Peter Mumford’s clever lighting enhance the experience.

Swan Lake is at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 23 April with matinées on 21 and 23 April. It can also be seen at the Milton Keynes Theatre between 26 and 30 April.

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Filed under Ballet & dance, Reviews 2016