DANCE : Enough swans for an ocean

Think of the most famous image of the most famous classical ballet, then double it, then triple it. Don't even try to count the tutus. When Derek Deane dreamt up English National Ballet's new Swan Lake, he could have been hallucinating in a hall of mirrors. Either that or made giddy by box-office predictions. His blown-up version of the Petipa/ Ivanov classic, which opened at the Albert Hall on Thursday, attempts to do for classical dance what Earl's Court did for opera. This is mass-market spectacle, ballet to boggle at, and, on its own terms, it works.

Let's not be snooty about this populist approach. Yes, Deane has acrobats waggling their legs in the air during the opening dance, he uses dry-ice by the tankerload, his Rothbart appears through a sulphurous crack in the floor (boo hiss), he even lights up the massive Albert Hall organ in throbbing turquoise, but whoever said art couldn't be fun?

Fitting a form designed to be viewed from the front into a big round hole (the half-acre arena) demands ingenuity, and Deane manages to make a virtue of some of these directional problems. A pas de quatre becomes a pas de douze, each quartet of dancers angling their moves to a different part of the hall. The famous cygnet dance doubles, adding extra spinning steps so that dancers can present themselves at 360 degrees. With so much space to play with, the big set-pieces are exhilaratingly expansive, beautifully done.

They have to be, for the dancing has to make its dramatic impact entirely without the help of scenery. Minimal attempts to set the festive village scene - a stall loaded with food set just in front of the orchestra's cello section - looked like something accidentally left behind by a WI jamboree.

Happily, Deane lets the white acts speak for themselves, bathed only in Patrick Woodroffe's simple design of bluish light. This is what the crowds are here for: dozens upon dozens of identical girls in identical white tutus, swans' feathers curling, Fonteyn-like, up over their ears and temples. ENB's regular production of this ballet has 22 swans. Here the flock is increased to 66, presenting a powdery vision of hundreds of perfectly angled limbs that would have done Busby Berkeley proud. Deane must take full credit for having drilled ENB's temporary intake to his famously exacting technical standards. This is no mean achievement.

Only problem is, the best place to appreciate these patterns would be from one of the acoustic saucers in the roof. From where I sat, my gaze was led along the six empty runways between the rows of dancers, and of them I got mostly rear views. The arabesque in ballet was designed to be seen en profil, given that the underside of a tutu has all the elegant appeal of the wrong end of a horse. Petipa's steps for these massed-swan sections (too famous to tamper with) don't allow for turning through degrees. This was one directional problem even Deane was not clever enough to solve.

More frustrating were the many times when the soloists were obscured, either by each other, or by the business of getting 120 other bodies on- or off-stage. I entirely missed Roberto Bolle's love-vow to his Odette (the brilliant Altynai Asylmuratova), because I saw only his manly back and nothing of her at all. Those in stalls C to F fared better at this point.

There is nothing new-fangled about arena ballet. Pavlova appeared in a Mexican bull-ring in the 1920s. By the Forties, Markova was staging Hollywood Bowl-style medleys over here. What's new is the nerve it takes to translate such a staple of proscenium theatre-art into the round. It can never be the full Swan Lake experience unless you play musical chairs. But it's an experience to be reckoned with, none the less.

Royal Albert Hall, SW7 (0171 589 8212), to 11 Jun.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

    £13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

    £18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

    Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before