The Coliseum needs English National Ballet’s Swan Lake, which opened a short season on Friday night, to exorcise the wickedness of the Schaufuss Ballet’s staging of the previous week with its grubby sexuality, choreographic nullities and frightful dancing.
This, Derek Deane’s production for ENB, handsomely does. Respectful of its Petersburg original, responsive to its drama, properly haunted in Peter Farmer’s design, it does not betray the truths of a ballet which a vast public knows is an unbeatable work of classic dance. ENB’s cast was eager, giving of its best. Erina Takahashi was honest in her effects as Swan Princess and malign enchantress, well-mannered in her moments of brilliancy.
But the potent reason for watching the performance was Zdenek Konvalina’s impersonation of the hapless Siegfried. I have commented with enthusiasm on his artistry in recent times. In his dancing, in his interpretations, you see the true nature of a premier danseur classique, that hero demanded, and too rarely found, by the old classical repertory and also in the later – even latest – incarnations of this figure in today’s ballet-making, from Balanchine’s Apollo to MacMillan’s Des Grieux – roles in which Konvalina has also shone.
There is a tradition here of male dancing that harks back to Louis XIV and the way in which a monarch showed himself to his court, his people – the effulgent Roi soleil of those politically dense court ballets – and it is one which is in the bloodlines of male dancing today, since it was the model for the earliest professional male dancers and has passed – from master to pupil – down to the classical danseurs of our time. (The line is easily traced: male stars of Imperial Petersburg’s ballet were instructors and models for generations of dancers and teachers whom we remember and know today.)
Konvalina’s performances, notable for their elegance in bravura as in behaviour, are exemplars of this still significant manner. His present Siegfried is princely in his relation to his world and to the drama which engulfs him. His dancing gives us grandeur of image and that ultimate requirement for such a role, nobility of means. Superb.