“What’s your favourite ballet?” “Swan Lake.” I feel like I’m copping out with that answer every single time. And then every time I go to see Swan Lake I wonder why I give it as my answer: Act 1 often bemuses me, my attention has a tendency to wander in Act 2 and it’s only when we hit Acts 3 and 4 that I’m fully sucked in. I’ve seen various Lakes over the years – English National Ballet, the Royal Ballet, the Mikhailovsky, American Ballet Theater, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, London Russian Ballet School – and they’ve all had varying effects on me. Before we start, I need to make it very clear that I like my Swan Lakes with a sad ending – happily ever endings just don’t do it for me, it completely detracts from the feeling of the piece. The Royal Ballet’s production of the Lake might feel as though it has more holes than a golf course but there is one thing it gets right: and that’s its ending. Done right there is nothing that can match that feeling when Odette realises there’s only one way out to break von Rothbart’s spell.
The Royal Ballet’s productions been on forever now (well it feels like it) but I’ve only just got round to seeing it. The thing is when your budget stretches to one viewing of everything you have to pick your casts wisely. I was tempted by Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares (who wouldn’t be?) but remembered I’d seen them last time around. In fairness, I was tempted by all the casts but I settled on an Odette/Odile and Siegfried pairing that I knew would do harmful things to my ovaries: Johan Kobburg and Alina Cojocaru. It meant waiting until nearly the end of the run (Kobborg’s been in New Zealand working on Giselle) but it was oh-so-very-much worth the wait.
I remain completely perplexed by a large part of Act 1 and totally unnerved by the maypole – I am always unnerved by maypoles in ballet though, there is just too much opportunity to accidentally get garrotted by a ribbon. On the other hand, this was the first time my attention remained captivated for the entire of Act 2 (the white swan pdd so, so sublime). Despite its flaws, Act 3 does funny things to my insides and Act 4 is just brilliance.
I say the production has more holes than a golf course, they’re not major holes, just minor annoyances really. Von Rothbart in Acts 2 and 4 looks like an oversized, oddly stuffed teddy bear (it’s best if we don’t speak of what he thinks is acceptable to rock on up to a party in for Act 3 ;)), the set for Act 3 is… odd and it’s all rather dark, possibly too dark – certainly too dark against Siegfried’s tights, and the princesses all in the same dress is a bit weird. Then there’s the maypole and, most importantly, a very conspicuous absence of actual lake. In the grand scheme of things it’s nothing really and, let’s be honest, it’s not as if von Rothbart is parading about wielding a rubber chicken* in the prologue (I’m looking at you, ABT).
I’ll tell you what’s great about this production though: everything else. I was particularly enjoying watching Melissa Hamilton in the A1 pas de trois when BAM, on comes Fumi Kaneko with impeccable technique, amazing jumps and stellar turns and my mind was temporarily blown (also it was fab to see Brian Maloney again looking très smooth). Hikaru Kobayashi and Itziar Mendizabal were brillo as the two lead swans, completely contrasting each other: Hikaru being the one you’d go to for a cuddle after being betrayed by Siegfried and Itziar the fierce one you’d want on your side in any fight. The A3 divertissements were all ace but particularly adored Kristen McNally and Liam Scarlett’s commanding lead of the czardas. And the swans throughout are just amazing, weaving effortlessly through their formations
Alina and Johan though, what can I say? Well if I tried to express it in actual words it would come across as something like: iniohno;iahbgi;rsyhgrsh;agiohioaghiojkljkjkjk. Yeah. It was worth the wait, so worth the wait. I can’t even… yeah. Wow, that was coherent.
In a more lucid moment, special mention of the night definitely has to go to Genesia Rosato for her truly amazing great big dramatic faint at the end of Act 3. It was a real thing of beauty and I wonder if she does masterclasses…
*it was probably an inflatable swan if truth be told. Or similar.
**Which you totes know Shakespeare would’ve written had ballet existed at the time he was writing Henry V.