LAST EDITED ON 01-Jul-99 AT 03:37 PM (GMT)
It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I arrived at the Royal Albert Hall for the matinee performance of Swan Lake on June 26th. After all, Patrick Armand had not received good reviews in earlier performances as Siegfried, and since this was the third scheduled performance in four days for both him and Tamara Rojo one might reasonably have expected them to be showing signs of fatigue. However, this did not seem to be the case at all, and I am pleased to report that whatever might have been ailing Armand earlier in the RAH season did not seem to be causing him problems on this occasion.
What sticks in the mind most about this performance, writing several days after the event, is the dramatically cogent nature of the performances by the two principals. I had always felt that one of the major disadvantages of Derek Deane's production was that its very scale meant that it worked better as abstract spectacle than as a human story, but such was not the case with these dancers. Rojo's mime, coupled with her beautifully expressive face, was crystal-clear, yet seemed almost as natural as breathing: Odette's "I want to die!" in Act IV was almost heartbreaking, as was Siegfried's desperate attempt to hold on to her as she was inexorably drawn away from him by Rothbart's magic in Act II. Siegfried becoming totally mesmerised by Odile as soon as she arrives at the ball; Odile's anger and threats at the appearance of the vision of Odette, and her consternation as to what action to take, followed by an immediate reversion to "swan mode" to counteract any damage done; Siegfried's melancholy in Act I after the Queen has told him that he must marry, and, in Act IV, sinking to his knees and seeming visibly to shrink in his despair at betraying Odette and belief that they are now doomed; all portrayed so clearly and with such dramatic and emotional logic that it gave dramatic sense to the ballet, and meaning to the steps. So much so that the dancers just about had me actually believing in that blasted happy ending - something I had thought completely impossible in any production. In fact, they gave the whole production a heart and soul which I have always found lacking in the past. On this basis, I would dearly love to see what they would make of Romeo and Juliet together.
I cannot end without mentioning something of the dancing, the highlight for most of the audience seemingly being a show-stopping Black Swan pas de deux which nearly brought the house down, with both dancers seeming to incite each other to greater and greater feats, and feeding off each other as they had done throughout the ballet. Rojo was producing not only double but triple fouettés with ease, and I lost track of the number of revolutions Armand was putting in between his tours à la seconde.
Finally, of the somewhat reduced corps de ballet (Pas de Douze reduced to Pas de Neuf; only two Big Swans instead of four), I have found my eye continuously drawn to a couple of dancers, no matter how small their roles: Alice Crawford and Timothy Wild. Crawford can be bright and vivacious when dancing with the Tutor or in her other Act I roles, but equally compelling as a huge-eyed, melancholy swan a short while later. Wild, a relatively recent recruit to English National Ballet, has a very attractive stage presence and manner, and I shall be interested to see how he progresses within the company.
All in all, a great performance, and well worth missing a trip to Wimbledon for!