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Swan Lake review at Royal Opera House, London – ‘Liam Scarlett’s admirable new staging’

Vadim Muntagirov and Marianela Nunez in Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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I do like a little dry ice with my Swan Lake. Of the many alterations Liam Scarlett has made to this remodelling of the most popular ballet, the removal of dry ice comes as something of a shock.

After 30 years, Anthony Dowell’s version of the Petipa/Ivanov original has been retired to make way for a new model. The gilded opulence of the palace set of Act III and the lavishly ornamented frocks suggest that designer John Macfarlane was given the company’s credit card and invited to have fun.

Scarlett has tweaked scenes and re-choreographed some of the dances to clarify the narrative. The most evident changes are a new waltz for Act I, new national dances for Act III and a total restructuring of Act IV.

As might be expected when presenting a new work on this scale, there is a hesitancy in the performance as if the company was still finding their feet. Vadim Muntagirov’s Siegfried is more Hamlet-like than ever, wandering around the stage in an elegant melancholia, occasionally delivering exquisite leaps and and fine extensions.

Until the entrance of Marianela Nunez’s stunning Odette, the eye is constantly drawn to Bennet Gartside’s Bela Lugosi-like Von Rothbart and Elizabeth McGorian’s Queen, impressively befrocked in spangled black.

The only warmth in the gloomy, Gothic atmosphere that dominates much of the production radiates from Alexander Campbell’s Benno who springs into action deploying multiple entrechats with joyful verve.

Nunez is better as the tragic Odette than her dark twin Odile. Neither she nor Muntagirov can summon the superheated sexuality that the ball scene demands, though his series of triple turning jumps are sensational.

While there is much to admire it lacks full engagement at present. My biggest regret is that there wasn’t (a) dry ice in the house.

Dancer Marianela Nunez: ‘The Royal Opera House and the Royal Ballet are my home and my family’

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Liam Scarlett's admirable but cool new model Swan Lake needs time to bed in