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The Royal Ballet's much loved production is beginning to creak a bit.
We really could do with a new Royal Ballet production of ‘Swan Lake’. Opening night of this latest run was the 985th performance of Anthony Dowell’s increasingly fussy looking 1987 version. It’s well-oiled but tired, with creakingly over-stuffed scenes full of mugging extras and wobbly scenery.
There are lovely things amid the clutter – a perky, bouncy Act I pas de trois with the delightful Francesca Hayward, a vigorously enjoyable Neopolitan dance delivered by Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera, and a superbly drilled flock of swans. But what we really want is the desperate, doomed romance at the heart of Swan Lake, as Prince Siegfried loves and loses his princess Odette.
For first night, this was Carlos Acosta and Marianela Núñez (heroically replacing an injured Sarah Lamb at the last minute). Paired together in lighter, comedic ballets, this duo are always a delight, displaying a sparky chemistry that lifts both their performances. Brought together for tragic romance, their heightened level of communication adds interesting subtleties to their interpretation.
When Siegfried first meets Odette, for instance, they dance together not as though they are falling in love, but more as though they are just meant to be together. Núñez deploys her steel-core precision to stretch out Odette’s most striking movements, enhancing her otherworldliness; Acosta may not have the bravura jumps in his repertoire any more, but his warm, intuitive partnering makes his embrace look like the safest place in the world to be.
Then, of course, comes the famous Black Swan volte-face, when Núñez plays evil twin Odile. A little less polish and a bit more minx might have been in order here. As Nuñez takes her instruction from wicked magician Von Rothbart (an excellent Gary Avis), she looks like a viciously efficient piece of malware being fed data to crash Siegfried’s entire life, rather than an irresistible seductress. But her firecracker set of the famous fouettes, finished off with a ‘how’s that?’ flourish, is electrifying. Russian star Natalia Osipova will be a different prospect – and one more of us can enjoy with a live cinema relay on March 17.