3 February 2016

Lovely Swan Lake from the Moscow City Ballet at Richmond Theatre

Once upon a Time I had a season ticket for the Royal Ballet and went to see everything that the English National Ballet did too then kids came along and the time and the money went on them instead.

In recent years I have been seeing a fair amount of dance (not enough) but surprisingly little "traditional" ballet. The closest I have come to that was Mark Morris' Romeo and Juliet at the Barbican over seven years ago!

So going to see Swan Lake should have been an easy decision to make and it was, eventually. Swan Lake was only on for two nights, Nutcracker was on the rest of the week and that was quite missable, and by the time that I made the obvious decision the front row of the Dress Circle had been taken so I went even further up and went for the front row of the Upper Circle (seat A16). Even that lofty perch cost me £26 as ballet is an expensive business, Swan Lake has a large cast and this production had a good sized orchestra too.

The front row seats have a bar in front that threatens to block the view of the stage, unless you are tall enough to see over it easily, which I am not. The solution was to sit forward on my seat and use my screwed up coat as a cushion to keep me upright and comfortable. It worked very well.

The audience worked less well, often a problem in the "cheap seats", and there were conversations all evening, some sweet bag rustling and also one mobile phone call. Fortunately this kept below the infuriating level and while it distracted at moment it did not do so enough to ruin the show.

There were lots of other things that I did not like about this performance. There were some plot changes that I did not comprehend (I did not buy a programme), such as the additional appearance of Odette/Odile in a black and white outfit. There was an additional male role and I could not tell which one was Sigfriend until Act 2 (and my guess was wrong). Siegfried spent more time dancing alone that with Odette/Odile and his dancing did not wow me. Odette/Odile danced better but did not quite look the part. The cast milked the applause ending each short dance with a spectacular pose and then coming to the front of the stage for more applause.

If that all sounds like a bad night at the theatre then you are wrong. I loved it immensely. Possibly not every single minute of it but not far off it.

Even with the problems that I listed earlier it is hard to get Swan Lake wrong as it is Swan Lake and its strength comes from the music that throws one tune after another in the two set dancing scenes in the castle and that builds the drama in the two scenes at the lake. Here the full orchestra came in to their own and carried the evening along magnificently.

The second great strength of Swan Lake is the set dance pieces, especially those choreographed by Lev Ivanov in Act 2, including the arrival of the swans with their flat footed hops and the dance of the cygnets with their tightly synchronised leg movements. I may have lost some of the plot but this was familiar territory, even after several years, and it was much loved territory too.

Other things I enjoyed in this Swan Lake were the ensemble dancing, the sumptuous costumes and the simplicity of the set that made lots of space for dancing and did not over-engineer the dramatic finale.

Writing this a few days later some of the tunes are still bouncing around my head where they collide with images of the production. Swan Lake is a tremendous ballet and even a slightly flawed production like this one is still a fantastic experience.

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