13 Jun 2024

English National Ballet Swan Lake in-the-round

English National Ballet are back at the Royal Albert Hall with their fantastic Swan Lake in-the-round and all is good with the world…

Sangeun Lee in Swan Lake. © @FoteiniPhotoSangeun Lee in Swan Lake. © @FoteiniPhoto

English National Ballet
Swan Lake in-the-round
London, Royal Albert Hall
12 June 2024
Runs through to 23 June 2024
Link of the Week - 2011 BBC documentary about all the work involved in getting ENBs Swan Lake on stage

Derek Deane’s Swan Lake in-the-round was an instant hit when it premiered back in 1997 and opening last night for its ninth run, it’s clear it remains an impressive spectacle. It’s the eerie lakeside scenes with their massed ranks of swans, often emerging from the mist, that fire the emotions in a way no regular proscenium arch theatre can replicate. It’s not just my emotions that take a hit, but also the sheer technical stagecraft of the dancers, and those who put it on, in getting all those Swans on and off-stage so very cleverly and that make the swans the triumphant stars of the show. Breathtaking indeed, and it gets me every time.

It’s a slick show generally, with all 4 acts offering a stage groaning under a wealth of dancers, rich detail and, when needed, clear acting. Jane Haworth (The Queen) and Michael Coleman (Tutor and Master of Ceremonies) are real oldies (forgive me!) and oh-so-comfortable and believable as they nudge the action forward and show the youngsters a thing or two. And James Streeter’s Rothbart is the height of menacing evil, with one of the most spellbinding stage entrances you will ever see.

Making their debuts in this production were Gareth Haw as Prince Siegfried and Sangeun Lee as Odette/Odile, both having joined the company last year from Semperoper Ballett Dresden, along with ENBs new artistic director Aaron S. Watkin. At his first entrance, Haw looks tall and princely with a terrific jump to boot, but Sangeun Lee is a little taller on pointe, which can throw some of the pas de deux out a little. They work fine together if the extra chemistry you might hope for, given their common heritage, seems missing just now. That said, Sangeun Lee has both delicacy and strength and looks the part, be she in white or black.

The orchestra, under Gavin Sutherland, were in excellent fettle. With live music, communication between the pit and the dancers is vital, and Sutherland, positioned between dancers and orchestra, was often half-turning to ensure all was in sync. The only time things broke down was in the Act 3 ballroom scene, where it looked like part of the set stopped Sutherland from seeing the dancers, and the timing of soloist final finishes was sadly adrift of the music. But this is nit-picking, really - the Deane Swan Lake is a magical goody and well worth catching before the run ends on 23 June.