Given recent controversies at the Royal Ballet, it’s hard to be totally transported by this revival of his 2018 Swan Lake. Nevertheless, it’s a humdinger of a production. Liam Scarlett’s insertions into the traditional Petipa-Ivanov choreography include winsome but occasionally cluttered dances for the courtiers in Act I, some snappy character numbers in Act III and a final duet of forgiveness for Odette and Siegfried.
It’s the dancers and the design that really shine, along with a dramatic account of Tchaikovsky’s score, energetically shaped by conductor Koen Kessels. John Macfarlane’s opulent, painterly sets are complemented by fantastically detailed costumes – in the first act, some of the royal retinue’s skirts feature feathery bustles that prefigure the avian drama to come, while Von Rothbart (here he’s a malign court adviser as well as a lakeside magus) has the wings of a giant battered crow and a gross sort of exoskeleton.
Deluxe casting ensures dreamy dancing throughout. Marcelino Sambé, Mayara Magri and Fumi Kaneko provide two thrilling pas de trois, while Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov once again display a partnership that’s beyond special.
As Odette, Nuñez dances with a kind of tragic immanence, filling out every sighing, sorrowing phrase with expressive intensity. To the insidious reaches of Act III’s violin solo (played with wonderful assurance by Sergey Levitin), she imbues Odette with a deliciously cruel irony – such is her rubato control that she can sink slowly out of whip-fast pirouettes with a knowingly triumphant little twinkle of evil intent.