Derek Deane’s Swan Lake for English National Ballet is both satisfying and coherent

United KingdomUnited Kingdom English National Ballet’s Swan Lake: Dancers of English National Ballet, English National Ballet Philharmonic / Daniel Parkinson (conductor). London Coliseum, 12.1.2023. (JO’D)

Emma Hawes (Odette) and Aitor Arrieta (Prince Siegfried) © Laurent Liotardo

Music – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Choreography – Derek Deane after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov
Additional Choreography – Frederick Ashton
Design – Peter Farmer
Lighting – Howard Harrison

Dancers included:
Odette/Odile – Emma Hawes
Prince Siegfried – Aitor Arrieta
Rothbart – James Streeter
The Queen – Jane Haworth

Before the London Coliseum’s purple curtain rises, the plaintive opening of Tchaikovsky’s score from the English National Ballet Philharmonic under Daniel Parkinson stills the audience and draws it in to the tragic tale that will unfold. A prologue shows the Princess Odette (Emma Hawes) being kidnapped by the sorcerer Rothbart (a convincingly malevolent and abusive James Streeter). Odette’s appearance in human form, prior to her transformation into a swan, heightens the tragic sense of what was, what might have been. After she has left the stage the birdlike Rothbart, a prime mover like Manon’s brother in Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, seems to conjure up the court scene that follows. From the start therefore, Prince Siegfried is doomed.

‘I was brought up,’ explains choreographer Derek Deane in an interview in the programme notes, ‘to collect everything together, to understand it musically, choreographically, and narratively.’ His version of Swan Lake, adapted in 2000 from an in-the-round production created three years earlier, is both satisfying and coherent. The character dances by the courtiers and peasants in the two court scenes ‘balance’ the ethereal marshalling of the swans in the two scenes set by a lake. Under conductor Parkinson’s brisk baton, the Czardas and Mazurka never drag. That is so much gained. Even if, on the opening night at least, this same sprightliness of tempo seemed to rob the music of its final transformation from the plaintive to the triumphant.

Along with his own choreography, and that of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, Derek Deane includes the choreography of Frederick Ashton. After the ensemble Waltz of the first act, Ashton’s pas de trois (Julia Conway, Katja Khaniukova, Erik Woolhouse) allows the eye to focus on the steps of the danse d’école. In Act III it is the Neapolitan Dance (Adriana Lizardi, Rhys Antoni Yeomans), Ashton’s ‘gift of love’, in 1963, to the dancer Alexander Grant.

Emma Hawes, dancing on the music as Odette/Odile, is delicate and clear in everything she does. It might be this delicacy that makes her seem more suited at the moment, her fouetté notwithstanding, to the tragic Odette than to her glittering and scheming alter ego. It was as Odette showing forgiveness of Siegfried for being deceived by Odile, Odette accepting her fate before the suicide, that Emma Hawes made a really remarkable connection with the audience. Aitor Arrieta brings his thoughtful, and also delicate, stage presence to the role of Prince Siegfried. He could not be more eloquent, in his port de bras and in the smoothly performed arabesques of the Act I pas seul, if he were delivering a soliloquy in Shakespeare.

Swans (Artists of English National Ballet) © Laurent Liotardo

What Emma Hawes does as Odile is made more intense by the female dancers of the corps de ballet (led by Precious Adams and Emily Suzuki) as swans who surround her, shelter her, or provide a chorus-like background to her pas de deux with Prince Siegfried. Swans who emerge, at the start of the final act, from a bank of dry ice that seeps out into the auditorium and whose arms, moving collectively like wings or like waves, amplify the music’s tragic fatalism.

John O’Dwyer

Leave a Comment