A fully fledged 'Swan Lake'

A young dancer is to star in the largest production of the classic ballet ever staged
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The Independent Culture

The young Russian ballerina Polina Semionova makes her British debut in the English National Ballet's Swan Lake at the Royal Albert Hall next week. Matz Skoog, who has been ENB's artistic director since 2001, recalls the moment when he first spotted Semionova, less than a year ago. Semionova was dancing the role of Nikiya in La Bayadère at a gala in Hamburg. "I remember she was dancing in the section 'Kingdom of the Shades' and I thought to myself, 'She's talented and good-looking. Why haven't I heard of her before?"

The young Russian ballerina Polina Semionova makes her British debut in the English National Ballet's Swan Lake at the Royal Albert Hall next week. Matz Skoog, who has been ENB's artistic director since 2001, recalls the moment when he first spotted Semionova, less than a year ago. Semionova was dancing the role of Nikiya in La Bayadère at a gala in Hamburg. "I remember she was dancing in the section 'Kingdom of the Shades' and I thought to myself, 'She's talented and good-looking. Why haven't I heard of her before?"

In ENB's staging of the Derek Deane production of the popular classic, the 20-year-old Semionova will star as Odette/Odile, partnered by the Italian dancer Roberto Bollé, who made his own debut in this very same production in 1997.

The Moscow-born Semionova graduated from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in 2002, at the age of 18. The ballerina was then engaged by Vladimir Malakhov as the youngest principal artist of the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin. In 2001 she won the Gold medal at the Moscow Ballet Competition, before making her debut on the stage of the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin as Clara in The Nutcracker. This was followed by the part of Princess Aurora in Rudolf Nureyev's version of Sleeping Beauty.

Skoog, the man responsible for the dancer's British debut, was himself a principal dancer with ENB from 1983 to 1989. He has since successfully made the transition from performer, to teacher, to management. Asked whether he ever misses dancing, he says: "I always look back to my dancing days with nostalgia. I have no desire to go back on stage, but I do miss being so fit and strong, as well as the simplicity, single-mindedness and self-centredness of being a dancer."

The ENB's lavish production of Swan Lake premiered at the Royal Albert Hall in 1997. It is still the largest production of Swan Lake ever to be staged anywhere in the world, featuring a cast of more than 120 performers including jugglers, acrobats and an incredible 60 "swans". At the moment, the cast are rehearsing at the ENB studios in Kensington. "It is very crowded in here and not very comfortable because we have 50 extra dancers. The space is a third the size of the stage at the Royal Albert Hall," explains Skoog. "But next week we are moving to film studios in east London, a much larger space."

For the duration of the ballet, the Royal Albert Hall is to be transformed into a lakeside spectacle, using lights and smoke. The ENB Orchestra will perform Tchaikovsky's score under the baton of music director Anthony Twiner, and the several different casts of principals include the popular husband-and-wife partnership of Agnes Oaks and Thomas Edur. Are there any arguments about who does the first night? "No, because I decide," says Skoog. "There may be disappointments, but it is going to be Polina and Roberto to star together first."

'Swan Lake', Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (020-7838 3100) 9 to 19 June

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