Swan Lake: First Rate Ballet On Stage And Screen

By Sam Smith Last edited 30 months ago
Swan Lake: First Rate Ballet On Stage And Screen ★★★★★ 5

Marianela Nuñez, just one of several outstanding dancers to be playing Odette over the Royal Ballet's current run of Swan Lake © Dee Conway

Londonist Rating: ★★★★★

Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is so popular today that it is easy to forget what an incredible and beautifully crafted creation it really is. In telling of the Princess Odette who is transformed into a swan by day, and can only be released from the spell by the eternal commitment of one who has never loved before, it offers four scenes that contrast markedly from each other. Acts one and three feature jubilant celebrations and an entrancing ball, and were choreographed in 1895 by Marius Petipa. Conversely, acts two and four, created by Lev Ivanov, take place by a moonlit lake and feature ballet and emotions of a far more sensitive nature. Even the prima ballerina must adopt two different dancing styles as she is required to play both the lyrical and vulnerable Odette, and her ‘nemesis’, the evil and seductive Odile.

Anthony Dowell’s 1987 production for the Royal Ballet contains a wealth of human interest as it utilises Petipa and Ivanov’s choreography while introducing new routines from Frederick Ashton and David Bintley. Even the most minor characters are developed into real people, and the entire stage is frequently filled with a host of diverse, but tightly choreographed, activity. The stage, which boasts rich gateways and thrones alongside silky, glistening ‘cobwebs’, creates a total ballet experience in which the hanging lanterns contribute just as much to the visual experience as any dancer.

In this instance, a first rate production is matched by world class dancing from the leads. As Siegfried, the prince whose hands Odette’s destiny lies in, Matthew Golding is slick, smooth and fast through the air. He also, however, possesses the ability to make his movements feel genuinely monumental, and this proves a rare and thrilling combination. Natalia Osipova similarly brings exceptional clarity to her shapes while making her movements feel like one continuous stream of rhythmic beauty and integrity. She demonstrates exceptional sensitivity and vulnerability as Odette, before thoroughly convincing as Odile with a strong sense of conceit and a remarkably flashy 32 fouettés, possibly the hardest step in all of ballet. The chemistry between the pair is captivating, while Gary Avis as the evil von Rothbart is also excellent. Amidst the plethora of other inspiring performances, those of Francesca Hayward, Yuhui Choe and Alexander Campbell stand out. Each has very individual dancing styles, and yet they come together exceptionally well in the act one pas de trois.

We saw this production at the cinema when it was broadcast live on 17 March (there will be some encore screenings on 22 March) and this certainly introduced new dimensions. Both the production’s wealth of details and the dancer’s facial expressions came across clearly, while the camera panning across the stage as it followed various soloists introduced another layer of dynamism. Many shots also came directly from stage level, which is a perspective that very few seats in the auditorium actually offer. For these reasons, we would recommend both a journey to the Royal Opera House to see Swan Lake, and a trip to a live screening of another piece. The next ballet in the series is La Fille mal gardée on 5 May, while the next opera, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny on 1 April, is one that should work particularly well in close-up as, like this Swan Lake, it is an immensely detailed production.

Until 9 April (nine remaining performances, various start times) at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London WC2E 9DD. Casts vary over the run. For further details and tickets visit the Royal Opera House website.

Londonist saw this ballet in the cinema on a complimentary ticket. For full details of all screenings in the Royal Opera House’s 2014/15 season visit the Royal Opera House live cinema season page.

Last Updated 18 March 2015