Swan Lake, English National Ballet, London


Click to follow
The Independent Culture

English National Ballet has had its share of offstage dramas recently, from a sudden switch of directors to a visa crisis. On stage, the company dance Swan Lake with care and confidence, from swan dances to the human relationships.

As a result of visa delays, Erina Takahashi and Zdenek Konvalina replaced Daria Klimentová and Vadim Muntagirov in the leading roles. A small, light Swan Queen, Takahashi moves in clear lines, the big poses glowing. Her footwork is speedy, the steps cleanly articulated. Meeting Konvalina’s prince for the first time, Takahashi is touchingly unsure of him. Throughout the duet, she steps away and comes back, her trust growing. He’s already smitten, cast down when she turns away, tender when she returns.

Konvalina is a naturally lyrical prince. The slow dances are richly textured, movement flowing and curling. His jumps are high and easy, with crisp beaten steps. He and Takahashi have a sharp, precise snap in the fireworks of the Black Swan pas de deux. As the Swan Queen’s wicked double, Takahashi is a schemer, looking to James Streeter’s Rothbart for cues, plotting her next move.

Derek Deane’s production is firmly traditional, with straightforward storytelling and picture book designs by Peter Farmer. The dancers bring a nice sense of community to the court scenes. When the peasants tease Michael Coleman’s sweet tutor, the scene feels affectionate rather than mean. The prince helps him up when he does fall, with rueful warmth for an old friend.

Dancing for their prince, the peasant corps are conscious of the honour, straightening their skirts and pulling themselves up with pride. As the Queen, Jane Haworth is gracious but highhanded, refusing to listen when her son is reluctant to choose a bride.

The first act pas de quatre is less polished: the tricky steps look fiddly. The national dances work better, with swooping steps from the mazurka and czardas dancers. Nancy Osbaldestone stands outJenna Lee and Laurretta Summerscales are assured as leading swans. The corps dancing in the lake scenes is solid, but could have more grandeur.

English National Ballet is a company in transition. Tamara Rojo takes over as artistic director next season, a sudden replacement for Wayne Eagling. She’ll find a hard-working, intelligent company waiting for her.

Until 11 August. Box office 020 7845 9300.