There are plenty of Swan Lake’s out there but not many of them have Siegfried eagerly getting it on with the Black Swan first. It’s just one of many alterations that Jean-Christophe Maillot has made in his version for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. And, it has to be said, Lac is pretty entertaining.
While generally keeping the traditional story intact, Maillot has chopped and changed the order in which events happen and turned many things on their head. Thus Rothbart is a woman, the Black Swan disguises herself as the White Swan in order to deceive Siegfried and the Black Swan is ultimately strangled to death by the Queen.
The first act is the best. There are some great ensemble numbers, the storytelling is crisp and lots of little sub-plots evolve (the King has a bit of a thing for the Black Swans evil mother, for instance).
The most effective part is when the Prince is being unsuccessfully seduced by the various Princesses – in Lac we have four women of different temperaments, all with a bit of an attitude, and all superbly performed. When the Black Swan appears, courtesy of her mother’s rather sleazy introduction, she wins hands down by incorporating different aspects of her rivals’ talents but always emphasising the physical desire she induces. And the short see-through dress probably helped as well.
But come the second and third acts and you’re left wondering how Siegfried bumped into the White Swan all of a sudden, what their relationship is (from the poorly shot opening film sequence it appears they might be brother and sister – happily the synopsis states they’re not) and what she is to all these other swans that appear from nowhere. Ah well, at least the central idea that Siegfried is won over by the innocence of the White Swan even after happily sampling the baser delights of the minxy Black Swan is a commendable one.
The dancing is uniformly terrific. The choreography is an interesting mix of contemporary and classical but it requires strong, forceful performances with a devil-may-care state of delivery and the company’s dancers deliver in spades.
April Ball’s Black Swan is convincingly seductive, Maude Sabourin’s Majesty of the Night (ie Rothbart) is pushy almost to a fault and Mimoza Koike’s Queen makes deceptively light work of a role that changes through the course of the ballet more than any other and the pivotal White Swan is danced with an easy childish charm and fear by Anja Behrend.
All the stronger roles go to the women; The Prince is a pretty weak character, easily distracted by all the bums and boobs floating past him, just like his father. The one exception is the Prince’s best mate who lets everyone knows what he thinks – he was brilliantly danced by Jeroen Verbruggen with impressive jumping, spins and some fabulously stretched grand jétes.
Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s staging was minimal to say the least but the final moments where the three remaining characters disappear in a whirl of black silk was beautiful. Philippe Guillotel’s costumes were bright and striking; the women’s dresses often exquisite in their cut and in the way they fell about the body.
Overall Lac was more than worthwhile – the quality of dancing saw to that – and hopefull the company will return to London with another production soon.
Lac runs at the London Coliseum until 12 April 2104. Tickets can be found on the ENO website.