BWW Review: SWAN LAKE, Royal Opera House
There is no greater anticipation in the ballet world than that for a new Swan Lake. The unenviable pressure of this task has fallen to one of the Royal Opera House's current Artists in Residence, Liam Scarlett.
Scarlett's more recent works for the Royal Ballet include The Age of Anxiety and Frankenstein, as well as the heart-wrenching No Man's Land for English National Ballet's Lest We Forget programme.
The most striking success of this new production is Scarlett's partnership with designer John MacFarlane. This is a luxurious, opulent, no-expense-spared Swan Lake, in which the swans shimmer in glistening white tutus with flecks of gold.
The ball of Act III is packed with the grandest of costumes, rich velvet curtains, golden pillars and a sweeping staircase. With a backdrop this breathtaking, it's easy to be caught up in the romanticism of the classic story.
Macfarlane's designs are beautifully atmospheric. Siegfried's life at court is set against a lush green landscape, contrasting with the eerie darkness of the lakeside scene of Act II before the dazzling grandeur of Act III.
That just leaves the small matter of the choreography and the dancing. Traditionalists will be relieved to hear Scarlett's interpretation is as classical as one would hope. The iconic moments remain intact; the many highs of Tchaikovsky's score are honoured, as well as the bouncing cygnets and the belting powerhouse solos for Odile and Siegfried at the ball.
Akane Takada gallantly steps up as a last minute replacement for Lauren Cuthbertson as Odette/Odile. Her Odette is pure, fragile and initially a little lacking in presence but boy, does she pull it out of the bag for her Odile. Takada's BLACK SWAN is ravishing, sassy and a feisty firecracker.
Siegfried (Federico Bonelli) barely knows what to do with himself, and that's a slight problem. Bonelli is technically excellent - his jumps and landings are strong and secure - but there's a sense of "getting the job done", and it takes time to feel invested.
As a pair, the couple sadly lack chemistry, and that's no surprise due to the last minute change, but significant in a Swan Lake. The audience want to be devastated by the final act. Scarlett's arrangement for it is strong, Odette's fellow swans are impassioned in their protecting of her and - without spoiling - the climactic final image is one that will leave you emotionally broken.
Full reviews could be written on the corps and supporting cast alone, however the Act I pas de trois is particularly exquisite. They are led by James Hay as Siegfried's friend, Benno, whose spectacular jumps are landed with silky smooth finesse. Hay is complemented beautifully by Yuhui Choe and Claire Calvert, who both dance with great musicality and flow.
Scarlett's insurmountable task has translated into a breathtaking gift that should be treasured in the Opera House repertoire for many years to come. Macfarlane's sumptuous designs are a visual treat, dripping with glamorous detail.
Swan Lakes can be deeply personal to ballet fans, and Scarlett has sensibly not meddled too greatly with the pivotal moments and the emotions they evoke. He has simply tinkered and updated the classic story for the 21st century.
Image Credit: Tristram Kenton