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BWW Review: SWAN LAKE, Royal Opera House

Liam Scarlett's production runs until 28 May

BWW Review: SWAN LAKE, Royal Opera House BWW Review: SWAN LAKE, Royal Opera House BWW Review: SWAN LAKE, Royal Opera House Some nights at Covent Garden feel heavy with a sense of occasion, and this particular performance of Swan Lake, taking place a week after opening night, was certainly one of them. Liam Scarlett's Swan Lake is not even four years old as a production in the Royal Ballet's repertoire but it already has history. Tragically, Scarlett took his own life last year after allegations of sexual misconduct that were never upheld.

This run of his interpretation was on its second outing in March 2020 and has some particular unfinished business, with a sweep of exciting debuts still to be enjoyed over the course of performances - which run until May. Two of those debuts are from young Principals Anna Rose O'Sullivan and Marcelino Sambé, and what a memorable pairing they are.

John MacFarlane's opulent designs are as luxurious as always - so much so, the raising of the curtain to begin Act III is a highlight in itself as the sumptuous golden ballroom is revealed for the scene at the palace. The full complement of 24 swans in the iconic white acts are faultless, disciplined and synchronised. Yuhui Choe and Leticia Dias are sincere and beautiful as the Two Swans, and the four Cygnets dig deep to remain in time on a couple of occasions but still deliver stoically. Thomas Whitehead, a last-minute replacement for a COVID-stricken Gary Avis, cuts a lone and ghostly figure as Rothbart.

Initially the corps are a little ropey in Act I: there are some ill-timed moments that are a little distracting as the audience seek to focus on the key characters. Kristen McNally has presence as Siegfried's mother, her mime clear and regal while David Yudes is spritely and dependable as Siegfried's friend Benno.

What of the stars, though, who - judging from audience reaction - are those we are specifically here to see? Sambé dances like a man who was ready for this two years ago. His jumps so high and so elegant, while never failing to bring everything together in the softest, creamiest of landings. He later flies around the stage in the Act III coda. His solo at the end of Act I as he travels to the lake is already layered with emotion, portraying a man who feels trapped by his status and longs for something (or someone) else.

This is all great, and Siegfried's not even met Odette (Anna Rose O'Sullivan) yet. What will linger most in the memory after this performance is the chemistry he shares with her. O'Sullivan was not even yet a Principal prior to the pandemic but is every inch the prima ballerina here. Her Odette is sensitive and moving; she feels absolutely everything through her undulating spine, and is simultaneously expressive yet gentle.

Together with Sambé, they create the most romantic and delicate pas de deux I've seen in a Swan Lake and it receives an extended applause I don't remember experiencing before. The story and the characters sit so comfortably on them, one would not be aware the central pair are both debutants.

Act III comes around and O'Sullivan's Odile is a spiky character who she has great fun with, but it naturally sits less convincingly than her Odette. Sambé thrills again in the coda, falling completely for Rothbart's decoy.

Of the divertissements, Artist Nadia Mullova-Barley is a standout in the Spanish dance (if you saw the BBC's Dancing the Nutcracker documentary, you may remember her as a first-time snowflake), in a performance of astonishing confidence and character, her tall physique working well with the Spanish shaping.

With an Odette so fragile and flighty, there is only one fitting way this Swan Lake can end: in tragedy. By this time the pair's connection is infallible, and O'Sullivan's Odette is heavy with sorrow, sharpened by David Finn's atmospheric lighting enhancing the drama before the inevitable conclusion.

A debut worth waiting two years for (in the case of Sambé)? I think so, and one they can only build upon on further outings in this run (March 25) and for years to come.

Swan Lake runs with various casts until 28 May

Image: @dancersdiary Instagram

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