Review of ENB’s ‘Swan Lake’: “A treasure to the heart”

Tchaikovsky’s worldwide admired masterwork returns to the London Coliseum for a limited run in an old-fashioned style production by the English National Ballet. Guillermo Nazara shares his thoughts on this montage bringing back the ultimate classic of the genre, to let us know if this new recount on the the timeless fairy tale is a matter of spell or enchantment.

“We all know the story”, sentences the cold-gaze French director as he frivolously walks around his fretted ballerinas – a scene that apart from its iconic contribution to film history, has probably triggered an interest in the genre for some and induced a few nightmares for others. A tale of bewitchment and betrayal (sometimes tragic, sometimes inspiring), simple in looks but actually encapsulating a profound vision about fate’s capricious desires – disguised through the charming wrap of magic and fantasy. Yes, we all know the story indeed: a handsome prince, a beautiful ingenue and an evil sorcerer wishing for their love to fall into its demise. Nothing new about probably the most famous piece in ballet history, let alone the one every single company in the world always chooses to perform (no need for fun-fact exception comments). And so, when that we’ve already experienced is what’s on offer, is there really anything to see there?

Derek Deane’s production of Swan Lake is not unacquainted to London audiences either, the montage now coming back to ENB’s West End’s homeplace for a couple of weeks as the start of the 2023 season. Featuring traditional sets and sumptuous choreographic, following the same show-off rule as with bel canto in opera, this version itself is, in definition, a reassuring treat for those who expect for a classic to be treated as such. Visually enthralling, Deane’s approach on this audience’s sweetheart succeeds at exuding beauty in its shape while effectively taking viewers through a clear, understandable and, specially, captivating narration of the tale. If writing is the craft of painting with words, then dancing is the skill of recounting with movement. And for that matter, we could easily say that Deane is almost an authority in storytelling.

Conducted by Alexander Ingram, the company’s signature full-piece orchestra provides us with a different take on Tchaikovsky’s haunting, delicate creation – its rendition being more vivid (sometimes, forceful) that what we are usually accustomed to hear. Though erasing some of its frail gentleness (a trait that was indeed quite aligned with the composer’s grievous personality), the intricacy of the performance is still palpable and enjoyable, thus giving a interesting Wagnerian touch to an often melodramatic score – and bringing us the opportunity to experience a well-familiarized work through contrasting layers of sensations, replacing part of its sentimentality for bravery and lavishness.

Led by Francesco Gabriele Fola in the role of the Prince and Fernanda Oliveira as Odette, the whole troupe is extremely competent in their delivery – the male corps being the irrefutable star of this production, both soloist and ensemble members exuding effortless splendour in all of their renditions. As for the female counterparts, their interpretation is done with perceivable flair and committed care, but fails in displaying the necessary naturality to make us forget the performer and start seeing the character, as some of their portrayals seem a bit too mechanical.

Featuring a lush exquisite set and costume design (both credit to Peter Farmer), accompanied by the riveting, exciting lights of Howard Harrison, ENB’s version of Swan Lake is a gift to the senses and a treasure to the heart. The shivering craze that should be chaperoning any true theatrical experience is only surpassed on this occasion by its powerful ability to enter your soul – reuniting you with those rare emotions only legitimate art can drag from the dark. “Done to death”. Maybe. But when passion and talent are its guides, there’s still much to tell and even much more to see.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Swan Lake plays at the London Coliseum from Tuesday to Sunday until 22 January. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Nazara

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