BWW Review: ENGLISH NATIONAL BALLET - SWAN LAKE, Liverpool Empire
The next lockdown treat courtesy of English National Ballet comes in the form of Derek Deane's Swan Lake. This production last ran over the 2018/19 Winter season, with this particular performance seeing Principals Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernandez in the leading roles.
Deane's take is infamous for its unique in-the-round staging, seen previously at the Royal Albert Hall, but this recording is from a traditional proscenium arch adaptation seen at the Liverpool Empire in 2018. The filming is a really enjoyable one; there are plentiful close-ups, especially in the lakeside acts that allows the viewer to marvel at the tightly rehearsed detail in the corps de ballet and read the facial expressions of the central characters.
Isaac Hernandez's Siegfried is a youthful and buoyant presence, not appearing particularly hampered by the dry courtly goings on in Act I. There is also eye-catching strength in ENB's ranks, however. Daniel McCormick shines in the pas de trois with exuberant jumps and pleasing control - he dances a neat menage that flies across the stage with abundant musicality - while there is elegant support from Rina Kanehara and Alison McWhinney.
To the lake, and Peter Farmer's designs are clean and simple, almost minimalist. Of course, the flock of swans are finely schooled and there's secure execution of the fiendish cygnets sequence too. Dronina suits the soft, brittle character of Odette. She dances serenely with a beautiful line in her arabesque and demonstrates wonderful sensitivity with expressive eyes that portray her torment and initial reluctance to engage with Siegfried.
It's the transition between Acts I and II that poses an issue. With the Royal Ballet's glossy new production lingering in the mind where the acts seamlessly blend, continuing the anticipation against the most dramatic moments of Tchaikovsky's score, here the curtain stays down for a considerable amount of time, disturbing the flow and any sense of drama.
Act III sees another stripped-back set for the grand ball scene. Hernandez seems much more at home here: his intent and characterisation of Siegfried is much clearer and his infatuation with Dronina's Odile more obvious. It's Dronina who struggles more with the feistiness of Odette; she's simply too sweet and neat. It's a nicely danced pas de deux that altogether lacks some fire and ultimately chemistry.
There is strong support, however. James Streeter's Rothbart is commanding throughout, but especially here as he dictates the deception at play. There is a graceful and musical pas de six from a selection of princesses who make up potential suitors for the Prince. A lot of choreography is packed into Deane's Lake and it's easy to imagine it working in the sweeping Albert Hall environment, but here the talented cast deliver the same compact steps and formations with lightness and grace.
Back to the lake once more for the thrilling conclusion. Deane's choreography remains deeply traditional but it is no less impactful. When does the sight of 24 swans flapping their wings in unison, all perfectly spaced and timed, fail to make the spine tingle? Dronina's pain as a wronged Odette is tangible in some strong storytelling, while the score demands a heroic entrance from Hernandez to enhance the final moments of the narrative. I just wish the central couple could have shared a bit more eye contact to humanise a technically strong display.
Deane's Swan Lake was due to be in rep again in just under a month, but of course audiences will have to wait a little longer for an in-the-round experience of this authentic and visually appealing take on the classic story. English National Ballet's Wednesday Watch Party will continue for another two weeks with Song of the Earth and Manon to feature for limited viewing.
Swan Lake is available on Youtube until the evening of 29 May