English National Ballet's gargantuan Swan Lake-in-the-round is back, complete with dry ice, demon king entrances and a starry new prince. Vadim Muntagirov, ENB's boy wonder, made his debut at this performance.
It's a high-pressure way to dance your first Swan Lake: Muntagirov had to deal with the huge auditorium, Derek Deane's rotating arena choreography and a last-minute switch of ballerina. He gave a performance that showed what the fuss is about.
There have been plenty of baby ballerinas, female dancers making their names when still in their teens. It's rarer for men, because partnering needs upper-body strength that takes years to develop. Just turned 20, the Russian-born Muntagirov is a slender, boyish prince. You can see the effort: slight though Daria Klimentová is, Muntagirov has to heave her up for the big lifts. But he's a surprisingly steady and tender partner once she's in the air. His instincts are good, and the strength is coming.
Klimentová stepped in to replace Polina Semionova, who was stuck in Germany with visa trouble. She's already danced leading roles with Muntagirov; they have a good rapport. She's an assured Swan Queen, making her dramatic moments stand out against the hurly burly of Deane's production.
Deane takes on the arena by throwing out spectacle in all directions. The traditional choreography, created for a proscenium-arch theatre, gets carefully rotated, dancers turning so that every section of the audience gets a slice of each number played directly to them. The corps de ballet is hugely augmented, with up to 60 swans flocking across the big stage.
It leaves little room for Swan Lake as lyric drama, but the company performance is upfront and lively. With a performance in the round, every dancer is in the front row for somebody: they respond with conviction.
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