Anthony Dowell’s 1987 production of Swan Lake, which draws upon Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s 1895 choreography while introducing new routines from Frederick Ashton and David Bintley, may not be revolutionary, but by providing such a detailed study of the ballet in terms that we are guaranteed to understand, it comes close, at least, to providing a definitive version.
As the curtain rises on Act One’s informal party with its ornate gateways and hanging lanterns, there are times where it feels as if the choreography is too concentrated on establishing character at the expense of the music’s punchy rhythms. Yet this is sense is soon over-shadowed by the strength of Helen Crawford, Yuhui Choe and Alexander Campbell a performers, both in their pas de trois and individually. Crawford combines a sense of fun with excellent technique and spatial awareness, while Choe is incredibly elegant, and Campbell makes the most of the music’s exuberant rhythms.
Marianela Nuñez’s Odette displays a strong formal technique from the start, her body agitated and convincingly swan-like, yet with a notable freedom of movement. She manages to create a sense of stillness and serenity in the slower passages despite the fact that rarely does any limb stay entirely still; she is constantly, yet subtly, in flux, her body always in a state of heightened tension and emotion. Thiago Soares as Prince Siegfried displays a straightness of poise that complements her well. While she is very much the star of this production, it takes two to make a pas de deux, and their final hold creates a particularly striking image.
Nuñez and Soares continue to shine in Act Three with Nuñez executing her thirty-two fouettés with aplomb, before taking the seduction and cruelty of Odile to new heights. There is also exuberance and precision in the Spanish dance, as well as a combination of gravitas and sprightliness in the execution of the Czárdás. The Neapolitan Dance, choreographed by Frederick Ashton, is also hugely charming thanks to the performances of Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera.
Although Act Four holds no real surprises, this makes it no less effective either in its famous climax, or the tender lament that precedes it. The rows of swans provide a reminder of their formidable nature, even when languishing in sorrow. Boris Gruzin in the pit delivers the score at a slightly slow pace that allows each note to shimmer, which works especially well in the lakeside scenes. Whereas this pacing worked against the piece in Act One, here it strikes just the right note.