Review: Derek Deane’s ‘Swan Lake,’ Flying High.
As Derek Deane’s version of Swan Lake, performed by the English National Ballet, finished its run in the city, one of our writers went along to vicariously live out her childhood dream. … And plie…
Rejection is just the first step towards success. J. K. Rowling had her tales of a now infamous boy wizard turned down 12 times before finally being published. (The world owes you thanks, Bloomsbury.) Similarly, audiences weren’t much enamoured of Tchaikovsky’s ballet when it premiered in Moscow in 1877- yet today it is one of the most popular and frequently performed of shows.
Liverpool’s penultimate performance had certainly drawn a crowd, with all crimson plush seats in the splendidly baroque Liverpool Empire Theatre filled. The audience was varied, with children of five to those (almost) old enough to remember the 1895 revival, but all were obviously enchanted from when the curtain rose on the evil Von Rothbart, to the final strains of flute in Act 4. i Weekend’s ‘Culture: The Five Best This Weekend’ had placed it top of the dance billing, a ‘handsome production,’ and they weren’t wrong.
The premise of the ballet (based on traditional Russian and German folk tales) is pretty simple. Boy meets girl (slash swan). Boy falls in love with girl (slash swan). Boy accidentally promises to marry daughter of evil sorcerer who turned aforementioned girl into swan. Some feathers are ruffled. A happy ending (largely) prevails. All rounded off in just four acts (with an interval to assuage those ice cream cravings).
I say ‘largely,’ because in the traditional version the ending involves the death of the two central lovers, who eventually sacrifice their lives in order to be together, far from the clutches of Von Rothbart. (Who must have played his part well- Liverpool’s audience booed him as he took his bow.) Derek Deane’s alternative ending somewhat glosses over this double suicide, having the protagonists ascend in a glittery chariot to finish. Perhaps more palatable for the show’s younger viewers.
Actually, one of them, a seven-year-old sat in front of me, was one of the show’s most perceptive critics. The Observant Little Girl Ahead (Olga) voiced the thoughts of many around her. Like with her counting of every time a jumping dancer made a noise onstage- ‘I heard a thump.’ As with most of us, she had forgotten that despite their apparent meringuey weightlessness, they were actually ordinary 25-year-old human beings (not swans). Also, as her mum assured her, the cygnets to the side of the stage during Odette’s solo may have been impressively and preternaturally still, but they definitely were not ‘statues.’ (‘Sure, mummy? ‘Sure.’)
One of the things about a ballet, though, is that it requires adjustment. It generally takes about ten minutes to accept the pretty ludicrous sight of a hybrid man-gazelle leaping around in almost see-through tights. Then the good old ‘suspension of disbelief’ kicks in and you settle down for the ride (or flight?). The music definitely helps with this, and the orchestra’s renditions of Tchaikovsky’s easily recognisable Swan Lake riff were exquisite, and more calming than the best mindfulness music. Costumes, too, were gorgeous, involving probable acres of silk and tulle and vats of glitter. The most enviable was that of Odile, the Black Swan’s: a jet tutu covered in opalescent crystal detailing. Act Three managed to evoke the flavour of various foreign contingents at court, with the Spanish wielding castanets and flamenco skirts. The two alternating sets (a woodland and a palace dining hall) were kept subtle and sombre, allowing the outfits to both literally and metaphorically shine. As did the dancing, with lead Emma Hawes executing perfectly a series of over twenty pirouettes, dizzying even to watch, in her dual role as Odette and Odile. The pas de quatre of Act Two, a dance sequence of four interlinked ballerinas, was similarly awe-inspiring. Anyone who has ever taken part in a three-legged race will know their applause was well deserved.
Last words to Olga, then, who again captured the mood of the audience with her whispered ‘I love this.’ We all left ‘balletomanes:’ apparently the word for enthusiasts of ballets. Actually, Olga didn’t leave straight away. As she said to her mum, she was going to try to sneak in backstage first.
Swan Lake continues in venues around the country. Meanwhile, another of Tchaikovsky’s successes- The Nutcracker– comes to Liverpool in February, performed by the Russian State Ballet of Siberia troupe. Box Office 0844 872 3017.