Review: BALLET Swan Lake Royal Opera House, London

A nasty dose of flu and a broken foot prevented Darcey Bussell and Adam Cooper from dancing Swan Lake on Saturday afternoon. Their places were taken by Deborah Bull and Inaki Urlezaga. Urlezaga, a 21-year-old Argentinian, was a surprise choice for Siegfried. Tall, handsome and elegant, he had previously danced Siegfried with the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires but he is still only a lowly first artist with the Royal Ballet. However, with Stuart Cassidy off sick and Jonathan Cope busy partnering Sylvie Guillem in the evening performance, Urlezaga was the only suitable partner for Bussell. The plot thickened when Bussell herself got flu. Urlezaga, having been promised the role, got to partner Deborah Bull instead.

Deborah Bull, who excels in demanding, plotless works, is not ideally suited to the role of Odette / Odile. It is one of the toughest in the repertoire, not only technically but dramatically because it demands tragic lyricism from the white swan queen and bravura sexuality from the black. The dual role allows the dancer to run the gamut of her acting skills but occasionally requires a greater dramatic range (and more stamina) than many dancers are capable of. Most dancers tend to polarise into Odettes or Odiles. Indeed, Natalia Makarova so despaired of finding dancers who could embrace the dualism of Odette / Odile as convincingly as she had that in her 1988 production for London Festival Ballet she cast the roles for two different dancers. Deborah Bull dances the roles as if Odette were the false woman constructed by Von Rothbart to lure Siegfried, and Odile the cynical reality. Odette is just Odile keeping a straight face minus the lipstick.

Bull had an additional hurdle to face in the shape of an unfamiliar and slightly inexperienced partner. That she was able to get through the pas de deux intact is a testament to her seasoned professionalism. We must assume that Anthony Dowell would hardly have pushed Urlezaga on stage in a state of unreadiness so the hiccups must have been acute stage fright. Lifts seemed a particular hardship and in the third act some were missed out entirely. He had less trouble with his solos: his pirouettes, fast and furious, were boring a neat little hole in the floor. I should perhaps note that the packed house - and these people had paid to see Darcey Bussell and Adam Cooper, remember - roared with delight.

Urlezaga certainly looked the part and undoubtedly made every effort to dance it. However, his lightning promotion to princely status would seem slightly premature at this stage in his Royal Ballet career. He was still down to dance with Darcey Bussell this evening but she is apparently not fully recovered so he gets a second chance with Deborah Bull instead. It can only be an improvement.

Tonight, Weds, Fri, 29 Jan, 3 Feb, Royal Opera House, London WC2. Booking: 0171-304 4000

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