Being an heir is not a feather bed.

Emma Hawes and Aitor Arrieta (Laurent Liotardo)

Emma Hawes and Aitor Arrieta (Laurent Liotardo)

In a week when a reserve prince has exhausted our thoughts, it reminds us that being the Swan Lake heir to the English National Ballet isn’t a feather bed either. Forget the punches and Elizabeth Arden cream – Tchaikovsky raises the bar with relentless curses and moonlit swan virgins.

Siegfried is an aimless prince – his face falls when his mother reminds him that it is time to marry and continue the dynasty. Suffering from a sullen uneasiness, he raises his arms, getting lost in a thicket of confusion. Leading ENB’s first night cast, Basque dancer Aitor Arrieta plays an understated yet graceful actor and an introverted, not-so-bright protagonist. Draw your own noble parallels.

This production of the Russian classic was created by Derek Deane in 1997 for arena settings such as the Royal Albert Hall. A few years later, he re-staged it for traditional theatres, and in 2011 a BBC documentary filmed it infamously, in which he dazzled ENB’s dancers by showcasing hissyfit privilege. The current cast is impressively trained but hopefully not driven by fear.

Iconic swans gather under a watery moon. Led by magnificence bowed by Precious Adams and Emily Suzuki, the 22 dancers seem to take a single breath, circling anxiously or groaning at one point. A nearby audience accompanies all the great tunes: conductor Daniel Parkinson also enjoys Tchaikovsky’s tunes. The spell was only marred by James Streeter’s distractingly cloak-swirling mage, pushing the gameplay up to 11.

This plush production needs clues to make sense of it. Emma Hawes transforms into a forlorn Odette, the enchanted swan princess – haunted eyes, crossed wings over her aching heart, shoulders twisted with excitement. He and Arrieta don’t exactly spark sparks, but they share a lacking intimacy, clinging to each other to find shelter. Hawes slows the drama down to a dreamy silence, a bewitching moment when doomed fate seems to have come to an end.

Emma Hawes and Aitor Arrieta (Laurent Liotardo)

Emma Hawes and Aitor Arrieta (Laurent Liotardo)

Deane overworks her dancers, mixing up footwork and hand gestures. Dotted painterly backgrounds and some fiery performances by the late Peter Farmer are also an asset. Julia Conway adds distinctive bite to the lemon pas de trois in Act One and plays a crunchy, arrogant swan.

The third act, a court celebration, is the most meticulous scene of the production, illuminated by a red mist. National dances have an adult reassurance – a suggestive Neapolitan duet and a swinging Spanish dance that is borderline slut. Siegfried, on the contrary, appears to be an innocent dude and he was duped by Rothbart and the ‘black swan’ Odile. An impressive Hawes quickly dazzles here, slowly falling into the trap; He closes his victory with a dirty chuckle.

The unhappy ripple of the harp opens the tragic final act as the arms of the swans bend in grief on the lake. Odette’s hands tremble above her head – like our poor nobles, she does not shake, she chokes.

London Colosseum, until 22 January; buy tickets here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *