London Coliseum, London, UK; January 11, 2015

David Mead

Alina Cojocaru as Odette in 'Swan Lake'. Photo © ASH

Alina Cojocaru as Odette in ‘Swan Lake’.
Photo © ASH

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Derek Deane’s “Swan Lake” for English National Ballet is a veritable feast for the eyes. His narrative makes sense, his set dances are beautifully constructed, and Peter Farmer’s designs, the autumnal courtyard of Act I, the gothic palace interior of Act III, but especially the misty, almost monochrome lakeside, are breathtaking.

As much as most of the audience had come to see Ivan Vasiliev and Alina Cojocaru in the main roles, top marks go to the corps. It says a lot about ENB that an outstanding performance from them has come to be expected, and they delivered again. Especially memorable were the swans. Led by Jia Zhang and Ksenia Ovsyanick they shimmered as one, not a leg or arm out of place, their limbs moving softly as if reflecting gentle ripples on the water itself.

If the audience came to see Vasiliev leap and bound, they certainly got their money’s worth. In the Black Swan pas de deux in particular he exploded, soaring to the heights, landing everything absolutely perfectly. And Cojocaru matched him with a warp speed set of fouettés that barely moved off the spot. And yet, as perfect as most of the steps were, there was sometimes something not quite right.

This is Vasiliev’s debut run as Siegfried and it shows. He looked for all the world like he was trying to prove that he could do it; that he could handle the big heavy role. But in doing so, everything became overemphasised, especially in Act I, where every walk and gesture seemed terribly affected and full of angst. It looked very Russian and very old fashioned. He was with the villagers, but not with them. It always seemed like his mind was elsewhere, whether sitting watching the others dance or dancing with them. In its way it was rather poetic, but it didn’t fit the situation. In this production he is described simply as preparing for his birthday party – there is no suggestion that his father, the King, has only just died and that he’s worried about ascending the throne, as there is in many. But the last thing he looked like was someone happy at the prospect of a big birthday bash.

Alina Cojocaru and Ivan Vasiliev in 'Swan Lake'. Photo © ASH

Alina Cojocaru and Ivan Vasiliev in ‘Swan Lake’.
Photo © ASH

Vasiliev looked much more relaxed once Cojocaru appeared. The dramatic gestures eased off as he tapped into her more restrained approach. Cojocaru’s Odette was deliciously alluring and full of precision, and she showed all the enormous sensitivity to the music she is noted for, but a little more softness wouldn’t have come amiss. And although things improved enormously as the ballet went on, in Act II especially, while there was lots of looking longingly into one another’s eyes, any real deep connection between her and her Siegfried seemed to come and go.

As Odile, Cojocaru was not as spiky and sharp as many. Since I’ve found the same with other casts, perhaps it’s the production, but there was little sense that she was snaring Siegfried; little sense that she was a scheming, seductive temptress. There was one malicious grin, and the occasional glint in the eye and sense that she was playing with him, but never that he was her prey. Then again, given that the couple enter for the pas de deux holding hands as if they already knew each other rather well, perhaps the deed had already been done.

Elsewhere, Cesar Coralles, Lauretta Summerscales and especially Alison McWhinney shone in the Act I pas de trois. In Act III, the six princesses looked stunning; it’s a shame they have such little to do. Begoña Cao, Sarah Cundi, Fabian Reimair and Max Westwell gave a rousing Spanish Dance, but the Neapolitan (Crystal Costa and Fernando Bufala) was something of a disappointment, and could have done with a bit more exuberance and sharpness, although the all-white costumes don’t help its appeal.

English National Ballet in 'Swan Lake', with Ksenia Ovsyanick and Jia Zhang as Lead Swans.  Photo © ASH

English National Ballet in ‘Swan Lake’, with Ksenia Ovsyanick and Jia Zhang as Lead Swans.
Photo © ASH

James Streeter flung himself into Rothbart, rushing around, sweeping his enormous wings at every opportunity and menacing everyone to great effect. From their friendly conversation at the ball, he clearly, though, had a soft spot for Jane Haworth’s Queen, and she for him. Was his ultimate objective the throne?

But the abiding memory remains those swans, those gorgeous, gorgeous swans.

English National Ballet’s “Swan Lake” continues at the London Coliseum to January 18.