Swan Lake, Royal Opera House

Epic conflicts of love and death
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The Independent Culture

Some debuts are surrounded by a flutter of excitement. Sarah Lamb, who joined the Royal Ballet this season, has been outstanding in solo roles. She is blonde, long-limbed, and arrestingly pale-skinned. Her line flows, her footwork is speedy, and she's especially good in the company's Ashton repertory. But she's changed styles for her first Royal Swan Lake. She has replaced the soft lyricism with a gaunt refinement.

Some debuts are surrounded by a flutter of excitement. Sarah Lamb, who joined the Royal Ballet this season, has been outstanding in solo roles. She is blonde, long-limbed, and arrestingly pale-skinned. Her line flows, her footwork is speedy, and she's especially good in the company's Ashton repertory. But she's changed styles for her first Royal Swan Lake. She has replaced the soft lyricism with a gaunt refinement.

Lamb isn't the only debutante in this revival. I've heard good reports of Roberta Marquez - who, like Lamb, has danced the ballet elsewhere. Marianela Nuñez stepped in for an injured Darcey Bussell before dancing her own official debut with Thiago Soares.

I wish these fledgling swans had a better setting than Anthony Dowell's fussy production. The court acts heave and bustle with irrelevant dramatic detail. Still, the company dancing is magnificent this season. Yolanda Sonnabend's designs surround the magic lake with Fabergé glitz, but there's enchantment enough in the dancing.

Lamb trained in Boston with Tatiana Nicolaevna Legat, and there's a Kirov flavour to her Swan Queen, danced with lifted chin and flexible wrists. She's also stripped down her dancing, cutting away the luscious texture of her Ashton roles. She has a powerful stage presence, and a good sense of dramatic pacing. In the second act, Odette keeps leaving and returning to her prince, seeking reassurance but frightened to trust him. Lamb gives real weight to those changes of direction.

As Odile, Odette's wicked double, she dances with speedy, glinting attack. Her fouetté turns are clear, and her solo has real dramatic force. There's a steely sweep to her last circle of turns, fierce and implacable.

Nuñez dances on a large scale, and there's a beautiful softness to her unfolding limbs. She does it all with a languorous emphasis that blurs the contrasts of the choreography. The steps are evened out. There is much more attack from her partner, Thiago Soares.

Chronicles - a Lamentation is held together by rhythm. This show, by the Polish company Song of the Goat Theatre, features movement, speech and singing, but its sense of ritual comes from its sung, chanted, gasped patterns.

It comes to the Barbican from last year's Edinburgh Fringe. On paper, it's almost a parody of the Fringe at its most austere: a show based on the five thousand-year-old Epic of Gilgamesh, performed largely in Polish by a company dressed in bleak hessian robes. It had a sell-out run, winning several major awards. Fringe transfers can look weak when they transfer to ordinary theatres. Chronicles has its confusions, but keeps its authority.

Seven performers sit on high-backed chairs, chanting. The music is based on traditional Albanian polyphonic songs and laments, arranged by the cast. There are deep bass notes from the four men, overlaid with wailing from two veiled women. Their screaming can be tuneless, but never undisciplined. It sounds like a ceremonial lament.

Individuals step forward to perform characters from the epic. The cast list names Gilgamesh, his mother, his companion, and various immortals, but it's hard to identify them.

Dancers chatter and shriek, plunging into strong but inexplicable emotion. Is this grief, madness, or remorse? One woman breaks into English, raving and cursing herself, but the burst of English makes the story no clearer. The show sprawls, but it rarely loses momentum. The singing is taut, with a driving impetus, and the dancers move with muscular clarity.

The plot is a series of confrontations: sex, birth, death. Chronicles has a ceremonial foundation, so there's discipline in the chanting and physicality.

'Swan Lake' runs to 1 June (020-7304 4000); 'Chronicles - a Lamentation', to 28 May (020-7638 8891)

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