Ballet review: Swan Lake in the round, Royal Albert Hall, London


English National Ballet’s arena production turns Swan Lake in circles. Created in 1997, Derek Deane’s staging often doubles or quadruples the traditional choreography, so banks of dancers can project it right the way round the Royal Albert Hall. On opening night, Tamara Rojo’s Swan Queen had the charisma to fill the whole space.

Rojo, who became director of English National Ballet last year, is a dancer with a powerful personality and a natural sense of drama: the arena holds no terrors for her. It’s hard to establish the ballet’s lyricism in this huge whirligig production, but Rojo’s arms flow softly, filling out the musical phrase.

The Black Swan pas de deux, in which wicked Odile impersonates the heroine Odette, is better suited to the huge stage: it’s already a big, explosive setpiece, full of dance fireworks. Rojo’s Odile is triumphant, dominating the stage and Matthew Golding’s smitten Prince Siegfried, but she can still end her solo with surprising, effective delicacy. In the celebrated fouetté turns, Rojo reorients herself as she spins: the repeated fouettés face different sections of the audience in turn.

Golding, a guest artist from Dutch National Ballet, is a tall dancer with clean, expansive technique. He powers across the huge stage, his dancing eating up space. His face isn’t naturally expressive, but he drives himself into the action of the ballet.

Deane’s staging has become a frequent summer season for English National Ballet. It fills out the court scenes with jugglers, and puts sixty swans in the corps, flocking en masse.

The original ballet, created for a conventional theatre, can lose focus in the round. The swans lose their thrilling first entrance, due to the logistics of getting them all on stage. Once there, the sheer numbers have their own theatrical impact, especially in Deane’s last act. Rothbart, the magician who has turned Odette into a swan, appears through plumes of dry ice, clouds of it spreading across the arena stage. James Streeter’s Rothbart has a cloak and isn’t afraid to use it, swooping and flapping his green, bat-like wings.

The company give a confident performance, reaching out to the audience. The first act pas de trois becomes a pas de douze, but all twelve soloists dance vividly. The national dances at the court ball go well, skirts and coats swishing as the dancers jump and turn with a flourish. Nancy Osbaldeston and Yonah Acosta dance a lively Neapolitan dance, with bouncy jumps and plenty of verve. The corps de ballet are alert and involved, staying in character as they watch the dancing in the court acts.

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