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I can never resist Swan Lake. Maddening, illogical, old-fashioned, ridiculously romantic, with a story that’s hard to follow, plus she’s a swan for bleep’s sake. But you always come out with the music running through your head and the feeling you’ve seen something wonderful beyond logical understanding. Yes, it’s classical ballet, whose gold standard is always Swan Lake.
Vienna Festival Ballet picked up a lot of fans last year when they were here with a very respectable production of The Sleeping Beauty. Their new opening night proved impressively full. It’s a bit of a ladies night out and the few men looked a bit shifty and kept popping out to the loo, perhaps over-fortified by refreshments beforehand but as usual Swan Lake worked because that’s what it always does.
Ballet master Peter Mallek models his show on a provincial Russian production that’s been going the rounds for at least twenty years, and which Matthew Bourne’s updating supposedly blew out of the water. It has its problems, and I happen to know that this performance was more or less a dress rehearsal. To be frank, my heart sank when I saw the cast list included the role of Jester. This embarrassing part adds nothing to the action and has the unfortunate effect of undercutting some serious dancing in a show which quite frankly needs all the credibility it can get. It’s particularly sad here because the excellent Carl Hale is forced into a shed-load of distracting camp that only fleetingly allows him to show his formidable balletic talent. This role should be cut and the crucial mediating part of the Prince’s friend be put back in.
If the ballroom scenes were a tad undercast and underchoreographed (cartwheels and skipping are not, technically, dance) the “white acts” in which the swans waft their stuff were pure unadulterated magic. Melanie Cox as Odette/Odile achieved a magnificent 31, or was it 32 fouettes which many more famous dancers would envy.
This Swan Lake adopts the Soviet happy ending, unfaithful to its original conception and more especially Tchaikovsky’s monumental, heartbreaking score. But it’s a crowd- pleaser, and the first night’s audience, by now fans for life, were cheering at the end. Well, they would. It is Swan Lake.
The production runs until November 20. For tickets phone 01543 412121 or go online at www.lichfieldgarrick.com.
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