Vadim Muntagirov, Daria Klimentova, Tamas Solymosi, Jane Haworth, Michael ColemanDerek Deanes in-the-round production of Swan Lake is about to notch up its hundredth performance by the English National Ballet, and its not difficult to account for its staying power.
Not only is the production, which is presented by Raymond Gubbay and the Royal Albert Hall, bigger than any other you are likely to see, but it makes full use of its size to achieve things that could never be realised by anything on a smaller scale.
To state that the production features an incredible sixty swans is to tell only half the story; equally important is the way in which they are used.
With the entire Albert Hall arena transformed into the performance area, their formations become infinitely more complex than those that could be achieved on a two-dimensional stage. The corps be ballet typically face in four separate directions as they dance, and frequently line the perimeter of the stage to perform outwards to the audience.
The scale of the production also enables the swans to input a considerable amount to Siegfried and Odettes central pas de deux, while ensuring that this pair still have sufficient space not to be swamped visually. Their contribution to the final defeat of the evil Rothbart (Tamas Solymosi) similarly helps to guarantee the most powerful of endings to the ballet. The pace is also varied so that not all sixty swans grace the stage the entire time. Twelve initially enter, followed shortly by a further twenty-four, so that step by step the atmosphere becomes more highly charged.
Act Ones festivities benefit in a similar manner. It is possible to stare at the main action and not even have Prince Siegfried in eyeshot, and that is precisely how parties work. The birthday boy may enjoy attention as he mingles, but he is not everyones focal point for the entire evening; people have their own conversations and do their own things as well. More dancers perform each piece than is usual so that what is typically a pas de trois is performed by four groups of three, each trio scattering to one point of the compass and contributing to the overall visual effect.
The production also uses its set-up to enhance the human interest. Jane Haworth and Michael Coleman fully develop the character roles of the Queen and the Tutor, while groups of children line the edge of the stage to play pat-a-cake and watch the adults dance. In this context, the production makes a wise decision to make fairly light use of props. Unlike Anthony Dowells classic Royal Ballet production in which a giant maypole is used to perform the Act One waltz, here it is left solely to the dancers to carry the piece off.
Twenty-year old Vadim Muntagirov makes a captivating debut in the role of Prince Siegfried. Light of foot and agile through the air, his arms curve gracefully and his legs rise to all required angles without fuss. In contrast, the accomplished dancer Daria Klimentova is sound in the dual roles of Odette and Odile, without ever quite matching the standard set by Muntagirov. Her Odette is strong on agitation but too light on lyrical grace, while her Odile is sensuous and seductive without ever really being flashy enough.
The corps de ballet is generally young and possesses a great lightness of touch. If this sometimes means that the bolder dances of Act One lack a little in weight, in the context of this exuberant production a little understatement feels quite welcome. One consequence, however, of the dancers not being separated from the audience by the orchestra (superbly conducted by Gavin Sutherland) is that their steps on the stage in the quieter moments become rather more audible than in most ballets.
Most performances of Swan Lake will conjure up their fair share of magic, but few are likely to do generate quite as much as Derek Deanes. This is not only because the production is big, but because it is also clever with its size.
Polina Semionova dances the role of Odette/Odile on 15 and 17 June.