English National Ballet’s Swan Lake opens with a real coup: not just bagging a guest appearance from Ivan Vasiliev, the ex-Bolshoi star famed for his superpowered jump and strong charisma, but presenting his first ever performance as the ballet’s hero. Matched with Alina Cojocaru’s shimmering Swan Queen, Vasiliev soars in the bravura Black Swan pas de deux, and melts touchingly in the tragedy that follows.
He hasn’t danced Prince Siegfried at home, because Russian companies are strict about typecasting in ballet. They prefer their princes taller and leaner, while Vasiliev's explosive technique is the result of a shorter, strongly-muscled frame. At the start of his debut, Vasiliev seemed determined to prove he can handle romantic melancholy, pouring on the angst in the first act.
He’s a stalwart partner for Cojocaru’s vulnerable Odette, but their chemistry really takes off when she reappears as Odile, the Swan Queen’s wicked double. Vasiliev keeps reaching for her, as if he can’t keep his hands off her. You can see why he’s fooled: Cojocaru’s Black Swan blends steely virtuosity with echoes of Odette’s pleading warmth.
The spins and leaps of this pas de deux are home ground for Vasiliev, who gives them an exultant sense of release. In the last act, reunited with Odette, he clings to her hand as if he can’t bear to let go.
Cojocaru’s dancing has a moonlit glow, moving in sorrowful ripples. Her Odette has airy line and a sense of fear, with delicate phrasing that shows the enchanted heroine’s sense of imprisonment. She does allow herself some grande dame moments, taking solos at an extra-slow tempo.
English National Ballet dance Derek Deane’s production with polished assurance. The corps of swans are smoothly drilled, flocking into clean lines. Jia Zhang and Ksenia Ovsyanick are crisp as the leading swans, while the four cygnets give their perky dance a buoyant precision. The national dances need more swagger, and James Streeter overdoes the cape flapping as the wicked magician Rothbart. Alison McWhinney and Lauretta Summerscales shine in their first act solos, bright and confident.
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