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Swan Lake (Royal Opera House, Covent Garden)

(seen at the performance on 9th May 2024)

Arguably the most famous ballet of them all, and another dip in unfamiliar (lake) waters for the monkey.

First thing, this is as lavish as ballet gets. Endless stream of swans, helpfully augmented by trucking in much of the Royal Ballet School – caretakers and dinner ladies too, just for numbers, probably.

John Macfarlane’s gorgeous golden palace interior, imposing gates and looming rock in the dark of the lake itself are augmented by equally sumptuous Ball costumes and a particularly effective “evil” outfit for Von Rothbart (Lukas B. Braendsrod on 'rightly booed at the end' form), the catalyst of all.

In the prologue, innocent Princess Odette (Fumi Kaneko) loses her crown, literally, as Von Rothbard turns her into a swan for refusing his advances.

Cut to Prince Siegfried (Vadim Muntagirov) and a glamourous birthday party unfolding. Given the ladies arriving, you would think it simple for Siegfried to follow his mother, the Queen’s (Lara Turk) instructions and marry one of them. 

No, Siegfried is either so picky he would crash Tindr, or maybe just happily exploring many colours of the rainbow. Turns out, after stomping off to the local swan’s lake, he really is “into birds” – specifically Odette who has taken up residence there and turns back into a lady only at night (sort of handy for dates, really).

Back to the actual Ball, a time for Siegfried to meet several ladies of various nationalities. Odette turns up and his love is found! Except... Odette is a copy, a bit of A.I. from Von Rothbart. It is fake Odile to whom Siegfried proposes. 

All is lost – the real Odette is left broken-hearted and under Von Rothbart’s power until she dies. That she chooses to do - the curtain falls on Siegfried cradling her body.

This being a ballet, every major character and most of the minor ones get an opportunity to shine. Kaneko and Muntagirov obviously ‘stop the show’ several times with the audience expressing loud and long admiration for their poise and technique. 

Indeed the monkey was informed by its knowledgeable ballet-fanatical friend that Muntagirov is the only member of the company able to achieve a particular step, and that his technique is so strong that he rarely misses an appearance.

The fascination with Kaneko comes with how she differentiates Odette from Odile. In a spooky grey version of the pure Princess white costume, her dance as Odile becomes notably less fluid, as if under instruction from elsewhere to imitate exactly rather than evolve naturally her moves from within.

Elsewhere, Siegfried's royal sisters Meaghan Grace Hinkis and Charlotte Tonkinson almost steal the first act with a sequence of performances solo and as a duo.

Later, Tonkinson joins Madison Bailey, Mica Bradbury and Sae Maeda for an iconic moment as the Cygnets take to the lake – the elder swans watching benevolently from the sides.

Too numerous to mention are the always precise corps – this evening seeming to the monkey eye on particularly tight precision form. Just to drop a note for Leticia Dias as the Spanish Princess in another stand-out moment, and also Valentino Zucchetti as a wise and caring Benno with a leap that almost covers the stage in a single elegant movement.

Tchaikovsky’s music is timeless and emerges sparkling from the pit under Martin Georgiev. Also emerging sparkling were the younger eyes in the audience around the monkey. 

In some you could see the ambition to be on that stage – matched by the faces of those up there already - who had dedicated their lives to achieve mastery of the physicality and mental stamina ballet requires.

Surely it all stems from a first encounter with ballet like this. Who could fail to be inspired in such circumstances? So much work beneath the surface produces the desired result – a swan with seemingly effortless glide across a lake of dreams.

5 stars.


Photography credit: Bill Cooper. Copyright of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Used by very kind permission of the press office.


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