Swan Lake, Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury ★★★½

Reviewed for The Reviews Hub:

Considered a flop when first performed, it was only a restaging after Tchaikovsky’s death that propelled Swan Lake to the position of one of classical ballet’s most beloved pieces. Northern Ballet opened Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre with their reinterpretation of the ballet back in 2010, but Marina Medvetskaya’s St Petersburg Classic Ballet company stick to the original story, presented very much in the archetypal classical style.

The story, such as it is, is designed to allow each act to deliver a number of set pieces by the company’s core dancers. The very first dances are from the corps de ballet, though, and truth be told the first impression, especially from the men, is not particularly impressive. As the production progresses, though, the quality increases substantially, although some of that scrappiness returns in Act II’s national dances, as the corps presents a succession of national dances presenting themselves to court. A highlight of the first act (whose two scenes encompass what were originally Acts I and II) is a magnificent pas de trois with Dionys Barcari performing with, and supporting, Yuliya Yashina and Viktoria Bogomazova impressively.

Throughout the production, the court of Prince Seigfried is entertained by Mikhail Bogomazov’s Jester, who alternates mimicking the moves of some of the ballerinas with some impressive solo turns of his own. His performance brings an air of levity to a story which, despite its romantic fantasy, can too often have an air of melancholy. Also amusing is Dmitry Popov’s scheming magician Rothbart, although this is perhaps less intentional – his winged form in Acts I and III is hardly impressive, and the costume’s shortcomings are only highlighted by Medvetskaya’s choreography.

But these are mere distractions from the two principals. In the dual role of Odette and her imposter, Odille, Natalya Romanova offers the grace and fluidity befitting a swan princess. Her romantic pas de deux with Pyotr Borchenko completely encapsulate the lyrical romanticism that has made Swan Lake so adored, while her solos are, if anything, more impressive.

In contrast, Borchenko’s Siegfried is lessened when performing solo. While his character grows up throughout the course of the ballet – a journey Medvetskaya emphasises with a growing maturity in the character’s choreography – within his big set piece Act II climax, Borchenko delivers a succession of tours en l’air whose landings struggle to feel fluid and consistent.

The final climactic duel between Siegfried and Rothbart lacks the dramatic climax that the classic story deserves, but like the rest of the piece, it is superbly orchestrated by the Hungarian Sinfonietta. Indeed, throughout the evening Tchaikovsky’s majestic, beautiful score is the highlight of the entire production.

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