Swan Lake, Sadler’s Wells, London
The Nutcracker, Royal Opera House, London

Muscular swans, prancing sweets...it must be the start of a new dancing year

Ring out the old, ring in the new … but not just yet. Let’s hang on to the old for just a bit longer. For 10 months of the year, novelty is what the dance calendar feeds on. During the weeks that straddle the New Year, though, a dusting of conservatism settles on management and audiences as reliably as snow from a can.

Brave is the ballet company that dares to mothball its Nutcracker for a season. Birmingham Royal Ballet plans to air a new title next December, but is already posting promises that its Nutcracker will return in 2011. English Royal Ballet has edged in two other ballets alongside, but relies on its current Nutcracker to top up the company coffers, as it has for the past 55 years. Sadler’s Wells might at first sight appear to be bucking the trend, but no: Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake has become an equivalent seasonal staple in the 14 years since its creation – the dance show of choice for an otherwise ballet-proof crowd.

The challenge for dance companies, then, is not to wean audiences off the familiar option. The challenge is to keep these productions as fresh as if they were made yesterday, and technically sharper still. In the time since Bourne first gave the world the image of the six-packed, feather-thighed cob, an entire generation of young dancers has come of age, raised on and conditioned by the knowledge of that gender-switch, those muscular avian moves, those barefoot balances. To put it bluntly, Bourne’s flock in 2010 wobbles less than it did in 1995.

This latest revival has brought textual changes too: choreography has been tightened or added, most noticeably in the central set piece for the swans, which no longer feels too long for its material. The dancers’ oral sound effects – hissing, rushes of air to denote swiping wings – are much reduced, though the slap of bare soles still add insidious punctuation to Tchaikovsky's score.

That, too, shows evidence of a restraining hand. The tendency for any long-running show is for tempi to speed up, and in previous revivals this music has sounded scrambled. Under the baton of Benjamin Pope the night I went, sensible tempi reign once more. It remains a miracle that such a small band – two to a part – can make such a satisfying noise, thanks to sound playing as well as Rowland Lee's clever orchestration.

The work's other enduring strength is its encouragement of new casts, allowing fresh angles on individual roles that subtly tilt the story. Charlotte Broom brings a chilly composure to the Queen, her strong facial resemblance to both the Windsor daughters playing into the complexity of her reading. With her son (the fine Dominic North) she's a mother incapable of giving the cuddle he craves; with anything else in trousers she's available. The most transforming effect, though, comes from Jonathan Ollivier's Swan, restoring muscular bulk to the role, not to mention a solid classical train

ing that grants him the security of absolute stillness, even when balanced high on the ball of one foot.

For evidence that longevity doesn't equal fustiness, look no further than the Royal Ballet's Nutcracker, clocking up its 300-and-somethingth performance at Covent Garden. Again, as they say of well-preserved actresses, "she's had work", which in this case includes a tightening of plot links between the first and second halves, and the clarifying of a historic sub-plot which most productions have dropped, but which Sir Peter Wright makes the emotional linchpin here. It helps that Gary Avis is a superbly complex Herr Drosselmeyer, the toymaker who engineers the amorous magic that releases his soldier-nephew from a curse. For all its skipping children and nodding Chinamen, this isn't a childish Nutcracker. Bound up with adult themes of nostalgia and regret, it even throws in a whiff of innocence corrupted, even the supernatural. Take those carved life-size Christmas-tree angels: how else could they glide like that?

'Swan Lake': (0844 412 4300) to 24 Jan

Tips for 2010

By Jenny Gilbert

Danza Contemporanea De Cuba: Rarely seen outside Cuba, this sizzling company of 21 dancers celebrates its half-century with an eight-venue UK tour, launching in Newcastle on 23 Feb. Tour details: worldwidedanceUK.com

Mark Morris Dance Group: Gutsy, earthy, funny, sublime, L'Allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato, Morris's interpretation of Handel's setting of an ode by Milton, remains one of the most inspiring works of modern dance, 22 years on. Solo singers, chorus and orchestra courtesy of ENO. Coliseum (0844 871 0091), 14 to 17 Apr

La Fille Mal Gardee: The sunniest ballet in the Royal Ballet's rep returns with a crop of new talent in the lead roles. Watch out for the debut of Steven McRae, a fine comic actor in the making and a dancer with the dazzle of Astaire. ROH (020-7304 4000), 9 Mar to 28 Apr

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory