Dance review: A tale of two Swan Lakes

How do you revamp a ballet classic? With varying success


English National Ballet dancers in Swan Lake in the round (Photo Ian Gavan)

Swan Lake in the Round ****

Acrobatic Swan Lake **

How can you revamp Swan Lake? It is one of the world’s most popular ballets and there are numerous versions – some end happily, most see the doomed lovers united in a blissful afterlife. English National Ballet’s current production takes place in one of the most unusual settings as it is danced “in the round” at the Royal Albert Hall.

Performed on the Hall’s huge oval floor (stalls seats have been removed), Derek Deane’s version, now nearly 30 years old, has been cleverly re-crafted to allow spectators a good view from wherever they are sitting in the auditorium – and in this case, audience members in the higher seats benefit the most from the massed swan patterns in Acts II and IV.

Getting rid of the traditional proscenium arch and wings poses a few challenges: the dancers need to negotiate many steps down to the stage as they make their speedy entrances and exits via aisles in the stalls. Dances have had to be re-imagined and though much of the choreography remains familiar, it has been altered to accommodate the larger dancing space and varied sightlines. Now we have a pas de douze instead of the familiar Act I pas de trois and eight cygnets instead of four do their famous variation, criss-crossing the stage in a manner that would make Busby Berkeley clap his hands in delight.

At the performance I saw, the men in particular made the most of the extra space with spectacular leaps and turns, with Lorenzo Trossello a finely judged Prince Siegfried. Lauretta Summerscales was a moving Odette and she quickly recovered from a mishap in her Act III variation to become an alluring Odile. But the corps de ballet are the real stars of this production, which continues to delight audiences with its sheer spectacle.

Over at Sadler’s Wells, the same story is played out by China’s skilful Xi’an Acrobatic Troupe, in what can only be described as a bizarre display of acrobatics fused with classical ballet.

Unfortunately, there is not much ballet in this work, rather it is a series of acrobatic stunts set to Tchaikovsky’s famous music. I can just about forgive the music being recorded but the score has been ruined: there are major omissions, sections are repeated ad nauseum and the overall sound is poor.

There are some impressive stunts, such as when the White Swan (Sun Yina), stands en pointe on the Prince’s head (yes, really) while in a complete split, and Li Jinyan as a snake contorts into various impossible positions, seemingly without a spine. The cygnets have been replaced by four frogs – an amusing dance, but I could have done without the corps de ballet on wheels.

Acrobatic Swan Lake is not one for the purists but if you like Cirque du Soleil with a bit of pointe work thrown in, then this may appeal.

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