Swan Lake, Royal Opera House, London – review

And there they were on Monday night, the dancers and musicians of the Bolshoi Ballet at the Royal Opera House, in a performance that marked the 50th anniversary of Victor and Lilian Hochhauser’s grand involvement with the troupe. Cheers. Gratitude for the dedication – and iron nerves – that have made such devotion to Russian arts bear such fruit of love and understanding. And another opening of another season to win our hearts yet again.

And, I suppose inevitably, Swan Lake. This time in Yury Grigorovich’s idiosyncratic staging, a Swan Lake about Swan Lake as received idea, as high romantic cliché abbreviated to avoid some of the fustian, as symbol of Russian ballet itself. It is a connoisseur’s view of the ruins, hallucinatory in its manner and, ultimately, reliant upon an audience that knows the traditional ins and outs of other stagings and can savour Grigorovich’s intriguing glosses on conventional Russian accounts.

It becomes, in effect, Siegfried’s fantasy about a swan queen, the wicked impersonation of a beloved, and despairing acceptance of the loss of that beloved. (In Hamburg, John Neumeier’s version is entitled Illusions – Like Swan Lake, which exactly identifies this production.) There are massive designs by Simon Virsaladze, choreography that pays tribute to earlier recensions, and a brooding air of déjà vu about the action.

Performances, you will be in no way surprised to hear, are variously splendid. The company is in admirable form, whether as swans or courtiers or visiting princesses (my heart torn between the ravishing presences of Anna Tikhomirova or Anna Leonova, Siegfried’s potential Spanish and Polish brides). And Svetlana Zakharova was the Odette/Odile. Her line is febrile, exact, showing the drama in finest outline, unfailing in Odile’s demonic bravura, yet most potent in the elegiac final scene, with grief-saturated dance. Her Siegfried was the decent Alexander Volchkov, and altogether too decent for the storm in which he finds himself. I thought Vladislav Lantratov a notable and vivid Rothbart, and offer vast admiration to the blessed legion of swans and, indeed, to the entire troupe.

Current and frightful tragedy, grotesque assertions, fevered press chit-chat, do not affect a central truth: we are watching a glorious ensemble.


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