ENB Swan Lake
London, Royal Albert Hall
The English National Ballet (ENB) arena Swan Lake is all about entertainment and spectacle. It sells well and there were coaches outside and entire extended families bumbling in, such is the pulling power.
Part of Swan Lake's power is a large corps all in white tutus and acting in unison and if 24 or so ballerinas look impressive in 'normal' productions why shouldn't 64 look so much more impressive? Well they do and without a doubt the strongest part of this production is the corps. They are well drilled (even on opening night) and if you sit away and up a little you can't really fail to be impressed and moved by them. Well I can't anyway.
The lack of a normal theatre's proscenium arch worries many regulars and to cover the large stage many of the dances are multiplied up x2 or x4. There is a lot going on and none of it is framed. Our eyes aren't adjusted to this way of looking at dance and they do wander at times amongst the riot of bodies. But I suspect most in the audience don't see any distinctions or complications and just enjoy it - judged by the buzz on the way out. And hopefully they will return to see other productions too - and not be put off by the regimented traditional view in a theatre!
I don't really have any misgivings about 'in the round' productions but the choreography here is pretty thin at times and the opening act with all its partying seems too long and tedious. Howeevr it was Derek Deane's first piece at this scale and overall it works well enough for the dancers, costumes and set pieces to rise above.
Raymond Gubbay puts ENB on at the Albert Hall and it was deemed appropriate to have some Russians flown in to open the run and add 'proper' ballet glamour and encourage more BOS (Bums on Seats). It was a strange coupling of Serge Filin from the Bolshoi and Svetlana Zakharova from the Kirov and they looked unbalanced and unfamiliar with each other and the production. Ideally she needs a taller partner (like Zelensky who was originally planned) though Filin is very well-schooled and quietly noble. Zakharova, though, does arrest you and has that distant ethereal allure of a high caste ballerina temporarily put down on earth. Rather like Lopatkina she has the most soft willowy arms which are so expressive you ache at their delicacy. The strange thing however was the act 3 fouettes (32 number) which I've never seen done so aggressively. It was like seeing somebody pump iron in the gym and about as alluring. Kind of impressive but to no particular end and out of kilter with the sophistication elsewhere.
On Friday night I saw Daria Klimentova and Dmitri Gruzdyev - a rather more together and balanced couple. Daria, Russian trained, strong technique, has however absorbed more English traditions and is a warmer, more human and fallible Odette/Odile. There were double fouettes too! Gruzdyev is an imposing prince and looked particularly impressive in the great leaping circuit of the stage where for once the choreography has the space it needs and looks the better for it.
On both occasions Gary Avis was Rothbart - played with evil scary reverence - excellent. Simone Clarke and Yat sang Chang danced the Neapolitan with the panache we've come to expect but the whole company, augmented as it is, looks pretty strong at the moment. Nice to see Zakharova but Skoog knows the company can do for itself.
I know from my own excursions over the years that where you sit in the Albert Hall rather matters. High up and you are too far away really, though the patterns are nice, too near and the dancers on the edge of the stage block your view of the action in the middle. The optimum I think is in the stalls anywhere from 6 rows back to the boxes. While it is in the round there is an axis and sitting opposite the orchestra is best. If you can get a seat next to the aisle in entrance K you may be in seventh heaven as dancers hurtle by you making their entrances and exits. Thrilling stuff.
Personally I'm glad ENB do the Albert Hall gigs. They please many and seeing dancers move from any angle is a great thing that too few know the pleasure of as it is. There should be more in the round and I don't see why it can't be just as artistically valid as dancing in the square.