5 March 2022
SWAN LAKE (Royal Opera House) Ballet Review

This performance was meant to be danced by Marianela Nuñez, who, unfortunately, caught Covid, so Yasmine Naghdi stepped in to cover the show.

Much has been said about this production:  this staging was devised by Liam Scarlett (the formal Royal Ballet choreographer who killed himself following a string of unproven allegations of sexual misconduct and bullying).  Yes, it’s a little muddled (Von Rothbart is not just a sorcerer, but is also an advisor to the Queen, hellbent on taking over the kingdom), which does dilute the main story, but it’s nothing that can’t be overcome by a bit of chemistry between the lead dancers.

Full disclosure:  I wasn’t keen on going after the cast change was announced.  There is a reason I bought a ticket specifically to see Nuñes.  A few years back I ended up seeing “Dances at a Gathering”, performed by the crème de la crème of the Royal Ballet principals.  Not having followed the ballet scene for years, I didn’t really know who was who, but Nuñez stood out from the pack by a mile.  Lovely though she was in the pas de deux with Federico Bonelli (who has just retired, in fact), there was something magical about her that transported me to the days of my childhood when I was getting dragged to the ballet once every couple of months to get a bit of culture.  That said, this being a much talked-about production (and wanting to see Muntagirov dance), I thought I’d give it a go.

Yasmine Naghdi’s dancing is beautiful.  But it’s also academic, for lack of a better word.  It felt like she was on display in a museum demonstrating the right technique.  There was no chemistry, no connection (with Prince Siegfried, Von Rothbart, or her flock of swans), just a lovely dancing object to look at.  This only made me miss Nuñez even more.  I was trying to decide if Naghdi made for a better Odette (the white swan) or Odile (the black swan)…  I think her detached style lends itself better to Odile, but lack of spark and chemistry puts a bit of a damper on it.

Vadim Muntagirov as Siegfried had beautiful lines, high leaps, everything you want from a male ballet dancer.  But it seemed like he wasn’t too keen on generating chemistry either.  It was like watching two very able individuals, but never a couple.

Of course one must mention the dance of the cygnets, a little highlight of every Swan Lake.  Lovely choreography, very well synchronised (except for one little bit when they rush forward).  I booked my seat in the middle of the amphitheatre on purpose, so that I could have a great view of the lovely symmetry of this ballet.

On balance, this was very enjoyable, and I’d definitely recommend seeing it, but I am still gutted at not being able to see Nuñez.

Cheapskate enjoyment value: £5.

Bonus: The elderly gentleman next to me looked like he slept rough for a few nights, but he must’ve been a conductor or a classical musician of sorts in his younger years, as he kept air conducting and playing air piano all through the show.

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