Swan Lake in-the-round

Where you sit in the Royal Albert Hall’s vast in-the-round auditorium, will largely determine the kind of Swan Lake experience you will have. By the “lake” side you are almost within stroking distance of the swan maidens. You will feel you are participating in this extraordinary spectacle – one hop over the edge and you could spin into a whirling Polonaise or Mazurka in one of the exotic crowd scenes.

Go to photo Daria Klimentová and Vadim Muntagirov in ACT II in Swan Lake in-the-round. © Annabel Moeller

You will also see the sweat glisten on strained sinews and snowy bodices heave with exertion as the swans hold their graceful, but rigid positions. By the end of Act III you will have no illusions left about the physical demands of ballet.

Up in the tiers, however, the illusion of effortless ‘ethereality’ is preserved. The sound of 60 pairs of pointe shoes entering the arena on the feet of the swans is muffled. Shrouded in curls of dry ice they glide in and out of their formations in the eerie bluish gloom of Howard Harrison’s lighting. At other times they are folded over their tutus like spotlights on the floor. You can also marvel at the “ballroom” filled with courtiers, jugglers, princesses, acrobats, Spanish, Polish, Russian and Hungarian dancers.

The raison d’etre for this epic display is of course the story of the doomed love between the enchanted princess, Odette and the young Prince Siegfried. Siegfried is tricked into pledging his love for the wicked black swan Odile, daughter of Rothbart, who controls Odette and the swan maidens.  The story of Deane’s lovers however, ends in a passionate kiss, which seemed a bit Disney compared to the dark Russian and German folk tales which inspired the ballet.

Purists have compared Derek Deane’s Swan Lake to a Busby Berkeley musical, but the idea that there is a true version of Swan Lake is an illusion. Compared to John Neumeier’s, version, which is about Ludwig II of Bavaria, Mats Ek’s, with its bald, waddling swans, or Mathew Bourne’s in which the all-male flock attack the Lead Swan (male too), Deane’s is close to the spirit of the ballet’s 19th century romantic origins.

Whilst marvelling at the spectacle I worried that the lyrical power of the great pas de deux might be blunted by the dancers performing to a 360 degree audience.  However, I found Daria Klimentova and Vadim Muntagirov’s partnership extraordinarily intimate. There was genuine tenderness here. Perhaps I was seeing the nurturing relationship they have for each other and the lack of egotism. Perhaps they cherish the relationship because they know their special partnership is in its twilight years. Klimentova is approaching the end of her long and glittering career.

Klimentova’s Odette was ‘heartrendingly’ vulnerable. She expressed the poignancy of the woman trapped within a swan’s body completely through her torso and her faltering upper arms. Muntagirov’s apollonian Siegfried was more innocent than soulful. This glorious young Russian cannot but express the joy he feels when he dances; it possesses his slender, effortlessly graceful body. He was the personification of a youth enslaved by love. The audience loved him back.

Other treats of the night included James Streeter’s fabulously crazed Rothbart and Nancy Osbaldeston and Yonah Acosta’s Neopolitan Dance. Streeter, who is famed for his menacing Mouse King in Nutcracker, emerges out of a whirlwind of dry ice like a born-again Freddie Mercury crossed with Count Dracula in a huge feather cloak. Osbaldeston and Acosta’s partnering was not scheduled for this night, but they tossed off a spirited performance with characteristic panache. Osbaldeston was born for this kind of nimble, saucy dancing.

By Fiona Fraser