Arts: Dance: More means a great deal less for swans in a flap

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The Independent Culture
A PUZZLE. Derek Deane repeatedly says that good dancers are unobtainable, so how did he manage to recruit 51 more of them to the English National Ballet - almost doubling it in size - for the revival of his big arena- scale Swan Lake? There are, besides the dancers, four jugglers (not very impressive), three acrobats (spectacular but irrelevant) and a dozen students from Elmhurst Ballet School. What was the old street vendors' cry? "Never mind the quality, feel the width."

Actually, this business of size is a fallacy. To have 61 swans on stage at once seems to me too much; they look better in the passages where there are fewer of them, spread out in more legible patterns. And although it is an ingenious idea to quadruple the showpiece pas de trois, dancing out in four directions from a central point so that everyone in the audience, spread all around the stage, gets a head-on view, it does look a little odd. It would help if the four male soloists could keep in time with each other and the music. Surely this could have been put right during the five-week Far Eastern tour already undertaken?

Don't get me wrong. Everyone chops and changes Swan Lake nowadays and I have almost given up hope of ever again seeing a good, straightforward production that truly preserves the best of the original. Deane's amendments are no worse, no better than most, only bigger.

This is, after all, supposed to be a love story; the two principals count for a lot more than a large corps de ballet and sprawling ensemble dances. And that's the problem about doing Swan Lake in the Albert Hall and other big halls; the story gets lost among the crowds and the vast distances. And that is quite apart from the distraction created in this performance by the dancers making all their entrances and exits up and down the steep steps that run through the audience.

On opening night even Thomas Edur could not really make anything of the hero, Siegfried. Yes, he looks extremely handsome, dances admirably, and conscientiously paces round trying his best to look involved, but it is all vague and unfocused.

As for Margaret Illmann's Odette-Odile, I wonder what came over her. I've seen her look much better elsewhere in other ballets. With her arms flapping constantly up and down, her dancing was both flamboyant and at times insecure. To say that it was also inexpressive might be unfair. She showed two expressions; open-mouthed and miserable as the Swan Queen, and then open-mouthed and smiling as her wicked double in the middle act.

The cast changes at every performance, so you might strike lucky another night. What isn't likely to improve much is the orchestra, which is stolid and scratchy. Their positioning up above the stage doesn't help the acoustic.

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