Ballet review: two companies, two styles

Swan Lake is a gem, and visitors from New York provide a fascinating contrast


The New York City ballet

Swan Lake

The Royal Ballet *****

Four short ballets

The New York City Ballet *** 

Swan Lake is back at the Royal Opera House for a long run. There have been numerous productions of this audience favourite – some with happier endings than others – but this production, by the late Liam Scarlett, is a gem. With gorgeous designs by John Macfarlane and Tchaikovsky’s superb music, the Royal Ballet’s dancers are given ample opportunity to shine.

On opening night, the lead roles of Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried were taken by Marianela Nunez and Vadim Muntagirov. Nunez brings an achingly slow, moving quality to her Odette, but it is when she dances Odile that we see the sparks fly. The famous Black Swan pas de deux is the showstopper it should be — the audience gasped and broke into spontaneous applause at one point when Nunez held a balance for what seemed like forever. Artistically relevant — no, but what glorious fun! Her gorgeous seductress is predatory in her pursuit of Siegfried; in the final moments of the coda she dances diagonally across the stage, reaching out to him as he is powerless to resist. Muntagirov is equally impressive; one can only wonder at both his phenomenal elevation and beautiful line.

Luca Acri almost stole the show as Siegfried’s friend Benno — he lights up the stage with his dancing — while time and again my eye was drawn to Valentino Zucchetti in the Act I waltz and the Act III Czardas. He is making a name for himself as a fine choreographer, but he is a lovely dancer too.

A couple of miles north of the Opera House, another prestigious company, the New York City Ballet, made an all too short visit to Sadler’s Wells, where they performed a mixed bill of four short ballets. It is interesting to compare the two very different styles of the Royal Ballet with the NYCB.

The evening began with Rotunda, by Justin Peck. A group of dancers performed speedy variations while occasionally regrouping into a circle: nothing special and the costumes were boring. Duo Concertant was the only piece by George Balanchine, whose choreography forms the core of the company’s works. The lighting was effective, displaying the dancers’ sharp movements to Stravinsky’s music, played on stage.

Pam Tanowitz’s piece stood out, only for its striking red costumes which draped around the dancers’ bodies and made interesting shapes. By far the best piece of the night was Love Letter (on shuffle) by Kyle Abraham. The choreography made the most of the dancers’ renowned speed and sense of attack, the costumes (by Giles Deacon) were gorgeous but the music levels made the bass reverberate uncomfortably around the auditorium. Good to see the company here in its 75thanniversary season, but I would have liked to have seen a different selection of ballets.

Swan Lake is at the Royal Opera House until 28 June. Swan Lake will be broadcast live to cinemas on Wednesday 24 April.

The New York City Ballet is at Sadler’s Wells Theatre until 10 March.

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