Choreography Derek Deane, after Marius Pepita and Lev Ivanov Additional choreography, Frederick Ashton Music Tchaikovsky, music director and conductor Gavin Sutherland English National Ballet Palace Theatre, Manchester October 4-8, 2022; 2 hrs 50 mins
Strictly Come Dancing has a lot to answer for. We are all dance fans now. Derek Deane’s production may have been wowing the crowds for more than two decades, but it’s the ownership, confidence and dance appreciation of the TV juggernaut’s audience that lights this particular fire. If you want to see a real blockbusting, crowd-delighting, rip-roaring success of a dance show, try English National Ballet’s Swan Lake. It has eye-popping sets, sumptuous costumes, thrilling choruses, riveting star turns and standout lifts and jumps. Did I mention it was classical ballet? “The tickets have just flown out the door,” said a staff member. And with justification. The crowd was buzzing from the outset, and so was the performance. A helpful prologue sees voluminously winged sorcerer Rothbart (Junor Souza) performing his swan-transformation trick on the hapless princess Odette; then we're off. What strikes first and most endearingly is the sheer smiley-ness of it all. Siegfried’s warm-up birthday celebration is jolly and relaxed – not common descriptors of classical dance. It's infectious and inclusive, and above all else, big. We have grown accustomed to more cost-effective companies, so it’s a joy to see the Palace’s stage so full of movement. Then it’s away to the lakeside and Ken Saruhashi’s brooding Siegfried (with more than a touch of the entitled spoilt brat about him) abandoning his crossbow and falling for the Queen of the Swans. Lead Principal Fernanda Oliveira danced Odette/Odile at our performance. She is of course magnificent, but the characterisation of Odette is just a little too soft and yielding, and somewhat at odds with Saruhashi’s technically brilliant but emotionally-restrained Siefried. But then there are the swans. They flood on to the stage and muster with military precision, kaleidoscopic patterns of tutus against the gloweringly dark backdrop and what has been politely described as the drumming of an army of pointe shoes. For me, that rat-a-tatting is like nails on an old-fashioned chalkboard, and I have never liked the cygnets’ dance. It’s on a par with the exaggerated emoting of a silent movie: of its time but really a museum piece. Don’t hate me. As Odile, however, Oliveira straightens, flexes her muscles, adds swagger and sweeps Siegfried off his feet. Always more fun to be the baddie, of course, and she does it con brio. We return to Strictly territory for the national dances – the entertainment at Siegfried's formal birthday bash. Fabulous costumes, enviable leather-looking boots (no assumptions here), great routines, more smiles. But the party is stopped in its tracks by the appearance of Odette, and Siegfried flees after her to beg forgiveness for his betrayal. Cue thunder and lightning as the triumphant Rothbart and his wild wings return. But of course there has to be a happy ending, so after throwing themselves into the lake the lovers reappear, rather disconcertingly on a swan chariot, flying through the air as the epitome of endless and undying love. The audience was ecstatic last night, greeting Rothbart with the boos and cheers of a classic panto villain, and rightly so. It’s a wonderful night out A secret. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this, scarred by a performance many years ago which gave Disney’s Fantasia hippos a run for their money. I am now restored to the true faith and in love with the swans.
Info and tickets here