Swan Lake in-the-round, by Maxine Smiles

It’s hard to think of a ballet more suited to a grand staging in the Royal Albert Hall than Swan Lake. The 1895 première of Petipa’s masterpiece was the platform for Legnani’s thirty-two fouettes. The amazed crowd immediately demanded an encore. She was the first ballerina to achieve that feat, and it still manages to dazzle audiences today.

As if the promise of endless fouettes and high-stakes drama wasn’t enough, ENB have created a spectacular of acrobats, jugglers and sixty enchanted swans, all performing in the round.

Go to photo Artists of the Company in ACT IV of Swan Lake in-the-round. © Annabel Moeller

With the orchestra released from the pit and placed high up behind the stage, there is no cavernous space between the audience and the action, providing an almost circus like surprising intimacy for such a large venue. The chill of the damp forest air is tangible, as fog seeps off the stage and curls around the stalls, provoking more than one ballet-goer to clutch their shawl a tiny bit tighter.

Court ladies rush through the aisles and beckon to their friends lagging behind, making you feel as if you too were joining them in their festivities. A little too much a part of the action, as later my neighbour had a surprising encounter with Streeter’s Rothbart, his beating wings whipping her as he disappeared off stage. Not for the faint of heart.

With little in the way of a backdrop, characters are thrust into view, allowing you to pick up on those small actions that are so often lost at the back of a traditional dance house – the tutor trying to blow the jugglers’ pins out of their grasp, or the ladies feverishly gossiping about the glamorous stranger in the shimmering black tutu.

If Derek Deane’s production is all about glamour and sparkle, it is perhaps at the loss of the more staidly traditional aspects, like mime. Gone is Odette’s story of her mother’s tears and her warning about the powerful sorcerer. Instead we see her own, palpable, despair in Daria Klimentova’s delicate acting, while Rothbart joins us unannounced in a cloud of dense fog.

Ultimately, storytelling takes a backseat to the flash-bang-wallop of this production. Klimentova’s  outrageously triumphant Odile and Vadim Muntagirov’s love-struck Siegfried have enough fizz to fill the stage all by themselves, but it is the military-precision of the sixty swans that makes the breath catch in your throat.

Maxine Smiles