Review: English National Ballet - Swan Lake
A sudden decision, earlier this year, to end the tenure of ENB’s artistic director, Wayne Eagling, has left the company in a state of limbo as this season comes to a close and everyone awaits the arrival of Tamara Rojo as his successor. It seems certain that this will mean wholesale change in the artistic and coaching staff and so these performances have taken on a valedictory air.
ENB’s hard-working dancers have been split into many groups over the summer with some performing in swimming pools around London (Like A Fish Out of Water) others dancing at the London Festival in St Paul’s Cathedral and another batch touring with Flawless (Against Time) plus the small matter of international tours to China and Australia. Then there was the uncertainty about who would be dancing these principal roles in Swan Lake. The expected lead pair of Vadim Muntagirov and Daria Klimentová was ruled out with Muntagirov stuck in Russia awaiting a visa to get back into the UK. Given he has been dancing full-time with ENB for three years and his visa status must have been well known by the company’s management, it seems that while ENB have been dancing with Flawless, it is not how their administrative capability might best be described in this regard.
There was at least one silver lining since Muntagirov’s absence elevated two principals into the roles of Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried who rarely get the opportunity for first night performances. The long-standing Senior Principal, Erina Takahashi, a slight and ethereal dancer, grabbed this chance to be noticed with the lightest of touches; superb as Odette, the white swan; and surprisingly guileful as Odile, the black swan. Earlier in her career, I felt that she was less suited to the seductive expressiveness of Odile but Takahashi has clearly worked hard to improve the complex balancing of this dual role and she should be highly commended for an enchanting performance.
In Klimentová‘s absence, the Czech Republic remained represented at the top of the cast list with Zdenek Konvalina making his debut in Derek Deane’s production. Konvalina is a superb, princely dancer; bringing a decade of experience as a principal with Houston Ballet and in Canada (he joined ENB in 2011) to a role that is almost as complex as the Odette/Odile combination: starting as a hapless, hopeless Prince pining for that something extra and finishing as the heroic lover sacrificing his life for love. It goes without saying that Konvalina dances cleanly and nobly; his beats crisply defined; his jumps impressive without being gymnastic; and his artistry both elegant and dramatic. He spent much of his first year with ENB dancing Strictly Gershwin all around the UK and must have wondered what on earth he had signed up for. Thank goodness we are able, at last, to see him in such consummate classical glory.
Deane’s production is exactly as we expect Swan Lake to be and a perfect antidote to the awful version presented by the Schaufuss Company on this stage a week previously. Deane respects the traditional Petipa/Ivanov choreography and his few idiosyncrasies tend to work, such as the pas de quatre in Act 1. An appropriately idyllic atmosphere is superbly captured in Peter Farmer’s quintessential designs. Given the difficulties that must have hampered some aspects of the preparation for these performances, the dancers were outstanding across the board but I especially enjoyed some excellent national dances, the lead swans (Jenna Lee and Lauretta Summerscales) and a very well disciplined corps de ballet.
It was not exactly the show we were expecting but it was nonetheless a highly enjoyable evening and one which provides a fine farewell for the departing artistic staff. I expect the style of the company to change once Rojo arrives but she is certainly inheriting a talented, diverse and attractive cohort of dancers.
Review: Graham Watts