Yes, it’s gigantic, with 120 dancers involved – Swan Lake with elephantiasis. But it is Swan Lake nonetheless, in Derek Deane’s arena staging for English National Ballet. Returned for a fifth time to the Royal Albert Hall, it offers its capacity audiences a spectacle that plays every theatrical trick, with 60 swans, blue light, foaming mist from the dry ice machine, von Rothbart appearing from a trapdoor like the Demon King in panto, acrobats, jugglers, an assured performance of the score under Martin West, and a clever adaptation of the hallowed Petipa/Ivanov dances.
The public is nowhere cheated, and nor is Swan Lake. If classic ballet is to be popularised in this way, brought to a new audience who might eschew the supposed pomp of an opera house, then Deane has found the way to do it, and splendid it is.
Wednesday night’s opening performance pulled off every effect with a happy assurance, and we applauded and were thrilled. Sofiane Sylve was Odette/Odile. French-born, now a member of New York City Ballet, she brings a strong technique to the double-role, but I found her somehow unyielding manner made for an unsympathetic Odette and an Odile of no great mystery or menace.
The revelation of the evening was the Siegfried proposed by Friedemann Vogel. (From Stuttgart, he was the Romeo of ENB’s arena presentation three years ago.) He has dramatic sensitivity – each moment in this princeling’s all-too-predictable story is alive, alert – and a clean and elegant dance manner: clear technique, expansive line, and those oppositions of head, trunk, arms, that give life and meaning to the simplest pose.
Given the problems of projection that must attend any performance in this huge space, Vogel handsomely told us about the ballet, about its central tragedy, and about the nature of fine male dancing. For the rest, the hordes of swans, peasantry and courtiers surged and scampered and rushed about in the proper fashion. Tamas Solymosi is all menace and a vast cloak as von Rothbart, and how good to see Michael Coleman’s unfailing dramatic intelligence and timing as Siegfried’s Tutor, and the grace of Jane Haworth as the Queen Mother.
Yes, it is Swan Lake, and Derek Deane and ENB should remain very proud of this achievement.
Tel 20 7 589 8212