Review: SWAN LAKE, Royal Opera House

Liam Scarlett's superlative production runs until June 28

By: Mar. 08, 2024
Review: SWAN LAKE, Royal Opera House
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Review: SWAN LAKE, Royal Opera House If you came for anything other than wall-to-wall superlatives for the Royal Ballet’s A-team and Liam Scarlett’s superior production of Swan Lake then you’ll be disappointed with this review, because yet again, for the fourth time in six years, ballet heaven is delivered with a side of perfection. It may be programmed regularly but on this showing it’s little wonder why. 

Prior to opening night, there were murmurings over Principals Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov being once again selected for opening night. The Royal Ballet possesses endless world class dancers who can do an exemplary job with the leading roles, why can’t others get a look in? It’s safe to say such doubts were swiftly appeased with the heartbreaking, exhilarating and technically flawless display the pair put on for the first night crowd. 

Naturally there is much more to a Swan Lake than the central couple, although it’s hard to tear your eyes from them. Liam Scarlett’s luxurious production features John MacFarlane’s opulent designs (most memorable for the Act III ballroom scene and sweeping staircase) shine brightly, and the corps of 24 swans are delicate and coordinated at the hauntingly beautiful lakeside scene. Incidentally, the transition from Siegfried’s birthday celebrations to the iconic white act melts easily; the dramatic choreography vividly portraying the Prince’s solitude and Muntagirov’s inherent sincerity will have you rooting for him before he has even met his Odette. 

The storytelling, dependent on crisp and clear mime is also a highlight. Experienced character artists Gary Avis and Elizabeth McGorian excel in the steely demands of von Rothbart and Siegfried’s mother, respectively. Both command the stage with ease whenever they enter it. Avis, present on stage for much of the four acts, whether just observing or menacingly pacing to control the proceedings, never stops acting and interacting with those around him. It’s a joy. While McGorian glitters in the grandest gowns imaginable, her direct instructions to her son to pick a wife set the stage for the evening. 

Back to the Lake, and from Nuñez first fluttering entrance and spine tingling back bend, the audience know they are in for a very top tier experience. From the back of the stalls, her Odette is sensitive, soft and musical, visible in just about every muscle of her body. She holds every arabesque and every balance for longer than necessary because she can, still striving to be better than before. Add to this her profound connection with Muntagirov, with whom she shares a tender and authentic chemistry, and you have a captivating second act which lays down the foundations for a tragic conclusion. 

The corps are perfectly unified as they quiver under the moonlight. The quartet of cygnets (Ashley Dean, Mica Bradbury, Amelia Townsend and Yu Hang) put on a plucky display, gallantly hopping and gliding through the arduous section. While Chisato Katsura and Mariko Sasaki offer power and poise as the two leading swans.

The Act III ballroom scene is where things really “pop” after the slightly plodding country dances, safe for a lung bursting Neopolitan from Madison Bailey and Taisuke Nakao, we’re in gala territory with the sheer showboating of Nuñez’s Black Swan. Demeanour shifted from the pureness of Odette, her Odile is angular, spiky and smirking, she runs rings around Siegfried with it all culminating in the pas de deux for which the applause is frequent and spontaneous. Her fouettes fly without a hint of bother, and Muntagirov’s soundless landings, suspended jumps and neat unassuming landings are showcased in fine style too. It’s a cliche but the pace, fire and technical perfection of them is breathtaking. 

There has been wide criticism of the disappointing choreography for Act IV’s denouement, but it’s not evident on this showing. The stillness of the lake is eerie amongst the dry ice and the sensitive conducting of Koen Kessels. The final moments between Odette and Siegfried are weighted with emotion and drama, her body heavy in his arms as they battle von Rothbar, their chemistry captivating until the end. 

The first leg of this lengthy run is already sold out, but tickets for June performances are not yet on sale, so there is still time and opportunity to get in on this piece of ballet box office gold. You won’t regret it. 

Swan Lake is at The Royal Opera House until 28 June

Photo Credit: Bill Cooper




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