Having never been to the ballet before, my expectations were high as I entered London’s West End. The Coliseum was absolutely packed with an eager audience of young and old, male and female alike. Perhaps the most endearing patrons were the little girls in attendance who were attired in what can only be described as princess dresses – proving that there’s just something about the theatre, and live performance of any kind, which is happily infectious.
The ballet was excellent, even to an untrained eye, and the obvious skill and talent of the dancers was remarkable. Perhaps the only complaint I had in terms of performance was regarding Prince Siegfried. Although clearly a formidable dancer, lead Alban Lendorf’s acting was just a little too much. There seemed a tendency to over-egg the pudding, which led to a feeling of being at a Pantomime more than at a performance by the English National Ballet. Although, given that Saturday’s performance was the penultimate in the London run, it’s impressive that there were still those energy levels left on stage, so perhaps I’m being a little harsh.
The pace of the storyline picked up during the latter half of the performance, as Siegfried struggles to find himself a wife. The return to the palace in Act III sees a rise in drama as the fair maidens of the court seek to win the Prince. The scene was presented as something of a courtly drama of Hispanic persuasion, as the Prince’s suitors twirled in frilly dresses and brandished fans in flamenco fashion. During the court scene the audience was also treated to more of the wonderfully wicked sorcerer, Rothbart, who cast his wizardry over the Prince.
The lowering of the curtain and the turning on of the house lights meant that the action was stalled quite considerably between the third and fourth Acts, which was a shame. The tension that had gathered dissipated almost entirely by the time we returned to the lake for the climax.
This break did give the stage crew time to put the imposing set in place however, and generate plenty of smoke to give that eerie haunted feeling to the lake. The elevated platform put in place provided a great vantage point from which Rothbart could direct his spellbound cygnets, appearing overhead like a malevolent puppeteer. I felt the choreographer could have created more interesting ways for Rothbart to enter the stage: appearing on the platform, running off and back on again below did get slightly tedious, but to his credit the dancer did what he could, and was nonetheless a convincing villain.
Overall, Swan Lake at the Coliseum was a delightful introduction to ballet. The plot was easy enough to follow and the details in the costumes and staging really did add up to an impressive production. Despite the small irksome detail of Lendorf’s over acting the overall experience was fantastic, and the actual dancing was top rate – which, from the English National Ballet, you would expect!