DANCE Swan Lake Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
The drawbacks of ballet in the round are obvious. Swan Lake mounted on a traditional proscenium stage allows the audience to peer through the fourth wall of a magic box and enter the world of Siegfried and his Odette. At the Albert Hall, where fellow spectators can be glimpsed fidgeting on the far side of every scene, that level of involvement is seldom possible. The compromises dictated by the democratic arena sightlines can mean that, in getting everyone to face the audience, the formal geometry of the ensembles can only really be appreciated by the mushrooms on the ceiling.

But I could have told you all that without seeing the show. The question is not whether ENB's Swan Lake succeeds as a conventional production (which is obviously impossible) but whether it works for the venue and audience for which it was designed (which it does).

The Albert Hall has its own performance logic: a solo Sinatra can spellbind; military bands can thrill the blood; but medium-sized spectacle is less sure of its effects. Derek Deane's choreography is certainly most successful when he is handling large ensembles, which he does with most style and skill in the white acts. The house grew dark, the stage glowed with Patrick Woodroffe's ghostly blue light, the floor was eerily carpeted with dry ice, and gradually the stage filled with a monstrous regiment of wildfowl. Of the 60 women on show only 27 are regular members of the Olivier Award- winning company. The hired help (whose availability for work is for the most part unsurprising) were cunningly deployed so that the core corps (as it were) did the tricky stuff while the other ranks did a bit of synchronised flapping on the sidelines. The result was rather magnificent.

Meanwhile, at the heart of this feathered phalanx nestled what for many punters was the Sole Purpose of Visit. Altynai Asylmuratova dances Odette/ Odile with a grandeur and intelligence that reminds us that there is rather more to this ballet than white tutus and dry ice. While our eyes are upon her we believe absolutely in the strange tale of the tragic princess trapped forever in the plumage of a swan. Her phrasing is miraculous and she coped superbly with the need to twist and turn the choreography to give everyone a tantalising glimpse of her artistry. Her sexy, wicked and resourceful Odile captivated Roberto Bolle's handsome Siegfried, leaving him oblivious to the real Odette perched 45-feet up in the organ pipes. At the climax to the ballroom pas de deux a shudder of triumph ran across her torso and a thrill of pleasure ran through the audience.

Ballet directors are obsessed with the idea of new audiences: Christopher Gable says Northern Ballet has found one; Anthony Dowell is going to Hammersmith to look for one. Derek Deane has even got the Princess of Wales talking about this strange tribe of ballet virgins waiting to be seduced by the right marketing mix. To judge from Thursday's excitable response and the murmur of satisfaction emanating from the departing crowd, I think some of Deane's converts could well be on for more of the same. Whether that turns out to be conventional ballet or merely the arena variety remains to be seen.

To 11 June (0171-589 8212)