First Night: Swan Lake, Royal Albert Hall, London

Beautiful game in a stadium-sized venue

Review,Nadine Meisner
Tuesday 14 January 2014 02:12
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English National Ballet's new artistic director Matz Skoog may have all kinds of adventurous, high-art objectives for his repertoire, but he also knows an audience-widening money-spinner when he sees it. Premiered in 1997, the first and best of the company's arena ballets, Derek Deane's Swan Lake has played instadium-sized venues in the UK, Australia and Hong Kong.

It returns to the 5,000-seat Albert Hall for its sixth consecutive year and to garland the occasion ENB has brought over a couple of big Russian guns for some performances in the stylish and technically superlative persons of Svetlana Zakharova from the Kirov and Sergei Filin from the Bolshoi. The Bolshoi is noted for a broader, more heroic manner than the Kirov, tuned to the vast dimensions of their Moscow opera house, not so far off those of the Albert Hall.

Yet equally Filin is perhaps the Bolshoi's most refined male dancer, a fairytale prince to melt any female heart. Pure-lined and light, he has an eloquent plangency and pliancy in his adagio movement, while in the whizz-bang tricks of the ballroom scene he hurtles sensationally round the stage's vast circumference without sacrificing any academic elegance.

Coming from the Bolshoi, he knows how to project, so that he suggests real emotional conviction, whereas Zakharova, perhaps swamped by the setting, offers less dramatic depth, especially as the Black Swan Odile. But she lets her sublime talent shine and the resulting partnership is one of the classiest in the business.

The orchestra sit over the stage's back cusp, facing the audience and dancers; while ENB are never so exposed as here, viewed from all sides, without any bits of scenery to hide behind, only a few benches, chandeliers and puffs of dry ice. But they look pretty much immaculate, dancing with real commitment and pleasure, even if this is very much an ensemble piece.

Yes, this is "Swan Lake – The Show". But it reaches people who wouldn't otherwise even consider a trip to the ballet; while its sheer scale – 60 swans, 120 performers – provides as much excitement as any England football match, and a lot more beauty.

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