There is something irresistible about its tale of the doomed love between a bewitched swan princess, Odette, and Prince Siegfried, who’s unwittingly led to betray her by the malevolent sorcerer von Rothbart and his daughter Odile.
As a spectacle, Swan Lake has everything: palatial splendour in Acts I and III, set in Prince Siegfried’s home and full of vibrant, highly skilled divertissements, and the dazzling coordination of the massed ranks of swans that inhabit the moonlit lake of Acts II and IV.
Over the years Swan Lake has inspired many remakes, none perhaps more radical than Matthew Bourne’s. However, when The Royal Ballet decided to commission a new production to replace its decades-old, and not universally loved, staging, director Kevin O’Hare made it clear to the RB’s young resident choreographer, Liam Scarlett, that tinkering was allowed, but the ballet should remain its recognisable classic self.
Liam Scarlett approached Swan Lake with a mixture of reverence for its history and a fresh eye. He kept the main storyline as well as the basic Petipa/Ivanov choreography (and subsequent additions by Frederick Ashton), but added a few touches of his own, and on the whole they work very well.
Whereas in standard productions we meet Odette already in her swan form, Scarlett introduced a prologue, where, by sleight of hand and a trick of lighting, we see the transformation of the young human princess into a swan.
Von Rothbart now has a dual role: as well as the sorcerer, he is a sinister courtier, scheming to steal the crown for himself. This gives the character a lot more depth and complexity, providing a meaty acting opportunity for the Royal Ballet’s roster of character actors.
And Scarlett has given Siegfried two sisters, as well as enhancing the role of his best friend, Benno, thus creating more dancing opportunities for the Royal Ballet’s wonderful soloists.
John Macfarlane's new designs are breathtakingly sumptuous. His palace, all veined marble columns, iron gates, velvet and brocade, is richly formal; his lakeside suitably dreamy and magical. David Finn’s lighting serves and enhances every scene.
Over a longish run The Royal Ballet has scheduled a rich variety of principal casts; but whichever Odette/Odile and Siegfried you see, the Royal’s dazzling corps will always weave its magic in the superlative white Acts.
You can go behind the scenes and learn more about this production in the RB's Insights: Swan Lake on 13 February. Details here
|What||The Royal Ballet, Swan Lake,Royal Opera House|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
05 Mar 20 – 16 May 20, 19:30:00 Some early evening starts; mat starting times vary (see website) Dur.: 3 hours inc 2 intervals
|Website||Click here to book|