Swan Lake, Royal Opera House, London

A brilliant ballerina in fine feather
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The Independent Culture

The Royal Ballet's Zenaida Yanowsky is an intensely dramatic Swan Queen. The heroine, Odette, is a woman turned into a swan, who can only be rescued by love. Yanowsky puts her yearning for freedom into every step. As she dances with her prince, each turn away from him shows her doubt as to whether she can trust him. By the time she's cradled in his arms, their whole relationship has changed.

The Royal Ballet's popular production is back for a long run, with plenty of Swan Queens to choose from. On Saturday, you could go from Sarah Lamb's elegant matinee performance to Yanowsky's dramatic bite in the evening.

Yanowsky's Odette is trapped and scared. She explains her plight in a boldly-phrased mime scene, her gestures urgent and fearful. There's the same force in her dancing. The sheer strength of Yanowsky's personality can mean that she overdoes it, but it's always an intelligent, powerful performance.

She has fun as the black swan, Odile. There's real abandon in the way she tilts her head back, a flash of amusement when she mimics Odette's swan gestures. Her technique is steady throughout. In the dazzle of the black swan pas de deux, she adds an extra twist to the celebrated fouetté turns.

Yanowsky is one of The Royal Ballet's tallest ballerinas; the company has had trouble finding partners to match her. Nehemiah Kish, who joined the company this season from the Royal Danish Ballet, is tall and strong enough to partner her handsomely, meaning that Yanowsky can really go for it.

Kish's own performance is smooth, but he doesn't match his ballerina in drama. He's polished and polite, smooth in dance and gesture. His best moments came in the black swan pas de deux, when he looks delighted by Odile's wiles.

At the matinee, Sarah Lamb danced with soft delicacy. She can be too restrained in the 19th-century classics, overly respectful. This time, she allowed herself to be more individual. She's particularly lovely in the last act. Betrayed by the prince, the heroine Odette returns to the lake in despair. Lamb's "crying" gesture is matched by her trembling footwork. Federico Bonelli, her prince, matches her in fluid grace.

Anthony Dowell's fruity production has been sturdily revived. It's still full of exaggerations – too ready to set its cast bustling through extra dramatic business, from dropped goblets to carnival masks – but it's danced with energy.

There have been some tweaks. This production marks the flight of swans overhead with a special effect, a full-on Disney flight of animated birds. The corps de ballet are on brisk form.

Sergei Polunin led the act one pas de trois at the evening performance. The Royal Ballet's boy wonder, he's prodigiously talented but also self-indulgent. This time, he threw in extra flash steps, but did them by numbers. There was more attack and involvement from Laura Morera, dancing with deft energy. Yuhui Choe danced a gorgeous solo, fluttering through her steps with flirtatious wit.

In rep to 8 April (020 7304 4000)

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