There has been an extra frisson of excitement with the return of Swan Lake to the stage of the Royal Opera House. For this production, first seen in 2018, is by Liam Scarlett, who is currently under suspension by the Royal Ballet after allegations – apparently misconduct with students at the Royal Ballet School – were made against him.
An independent disciplinary investigation is now underway, but several other ballet companies have already dropped Scarlett’s work from their repertoire. So the question has been: would the audience stay away from one of the Royal Ballet’s most spectacular and acclaimed productions? No, of course not. Whatever is happening in the world of ballet and sexual politics (#metutu?) it seems you can’t keep a good Swan Lake down and this certainly is a glorious version of the well-loved classic.
The stunning set designs are by John Macfarlane (there’s applause as the curtain rises on Act III even before a single step is danced) and the costumes are lavish and colourful.
On the opening night, Marianela Nunez danced the dual role of Odette/Odile, displaying a lovely legato quality as the Swan Queen alongside a delicious sharp sexiness as the evil temptress. Her Prince Siegfried was Vadim Muntagirov, whose effortless elevation is combined with a beautiful line.
There is much to admire in the dancing: the corps de ballet is on top form in the two lakeside scenes, while the Act III character dances are performed with a lot of oomph. Standout performances came from Gina Storm-Jensen, all dark passion leading the Spanish dance, and Meaghan Grace Hinkis, who, with Valentino Zucchetti, zipped through the famous Neapolitan Dance. Claire Calvert brought lovely amplitude of movement to her role as a Big Swan, and Marcelino Sambe pulled off all the technical tricks as Benno, the Prince’s friend. Stalking the stage with menace was Bennet Gartside, looking rather Goth-like (and Professor Snape-ish) as Von Rothbart.
Tchaikovsky’s wonderful score (it’s hard to believe that it met with a lukewarm reception when first performed in 1877) was in safe hands under the baton of Koen Kessels. It really is impossible not to be moved during those final thundering chords.
Swan Lake is at the Royal Opera House until 16 May. Swan Lake will be broadcast live to cinemas on Wednesday 1 April.