English National Ballet: Romantic Swan Lake Makes for Magical Night Out

Isaac Hernandez and Jurgita Dronina in Swan Lake. Photo by Laurent Liotardo

The English National Ballet kicks off the new year at the London Coliseum with enduring classic, Swan Lake. The re-vamped version of Derek Deane’s staging for the Royal Opera House occasionally appears too crowded within the confines of the proscenium stage; but the drama still unfolds beautifully, carried by two lovely leads, a few standout soloists and a mighty, mighty corps de ballet.

Similarly to The Nutcracker the ENB has just finished, the first act of Swan Lake slowly drums up momentum for the rest of the ballet. Thankfully the music’s driving tempo and quick-fire choreography keeps the audience on their toes, as well as the dancers. With sure-footed strength, a lovely port de bras, and playful musicality, Julia Conway steals attention during the trio.

Still, Act I drags on a bit, as we long to meet the swans – and to see Prince Siegried, played by Jeffrey Cirio, move beyond politely gesturing ‘I do not want to get married.’ The audience is rewarded during Cirio’s ironically introspective, simultaneously expressive solo, which whets the appetite for more of his sentient movement and grandiose tricks. The pas de bourrees fall into deep plies in arabesque, rather than the leaps and spins that audience members come to expect.

English National Ballet in Swan Lake. Photo by Laurent Liotardo
English National Ballet in Swan Lake. Photo by Laurent Liotardo

Mist swirls up off the lake as we are introduced to Swan Queen Odette, danced by Alina Cojocaru, who moves gracefully but timidly. Her vulnerability and desolation shows as she cradles splintery wings into her chest, and her dancing comes alive during her duet with enamoured Prince Siegried. The two partner each other well, as Cojocaru opens her heart and melts into penché before arching back into a lovely catch.

As the lovers are separated, the famous cygnets’ pas de quatre tromps across stage in precise synchrony. Afterwards the audience is treated to a flashy Spanish dance, the crimson-clad corps performing a heel-clicking Czardas, an exuberant Neapolitan Dance duet complete with tambourines and a stately mazurka.

When Cojocaru reappears as Odile, her strength, confidence and beguiling nature beg the question: Odette who? Even as Rothbart coaches her through the sequence, Odile’s bold attitude brings an unabashedly seductive feeling to the choreography from Prince Siegfried’s initial meeting with Odette. Cojocaru polishes off the furiously fast choreography and fouette turns easily. Too bad for Odile’s trickery and treachery, since these two could have been a good match…

English National Ballet in Swan Lake. Photo by Laurent Liotardo

After the deceit comes to light, the apology and reunion between Prince Siegfried and Odette at the lake seems to go well – until a riley Rothbart jumps into the picture. Odette runs away and quickly jumps into the lake, followed by Siegfried: a succinct and tragic version of The Notebook’s ‘If you’re a bird, I’m a bird’, if you will.

Although there’s not much time to wind down from the climax, theatregoers leave The Coliseum in awe of the evening’s spectacle, from the dancing to the glittering costumes and realistic flashes of lightning that tear illuminate a dreamlike set. The English National Ballet’s romantic staging of Swan Lake makes for a magical night out.

Reviewed on 8th of January at the London Coliseum