We attended a production of Swan Lake by the English Youth Ballet (EYB) at The Theatre Royal, Norwich on March 7th 2014.
This contemporary adaption of the Tchaikovsky classic showed skill, sensitivity and flexibility in responding to the needs of the company and the unique way it operates- recruiting its young cast from local ballet and dance schools in every region it performs in. Giving young dancers aged between 8-18 the chance to work alongside top choreographers, costume and set designers in classic theatrical settings is an unrivalled way of encouraging participation in and support of dance and the audience was captivated, at times on the edge of their seats by the spectacle unfolding on the stage and challenged to rethink their previously held familiarity with the story line.
This Odette and her Prince did not ascend to heaven on a white swan; instead Odile and Odette become locked into a rivalry fuelled by Odile’s need to gain patronage and finance for the theatre run by her Father; the reworked evil magician Von Rothbart, through marriage to the Prince. The veracity of this reworked storyline is underpinned by the clever referencing of the historical connections between the Mariinsky dancers, the Russian Tsar and his Royal Court giving us exquisitely romantic Degas-esque designs for the rehearsal scenes and a strong sense of Old Russia in its overall set design. This helped bridge the gap between our desire for ‘traditional’ Swan Lake and a need for fresh interpretations. The parallels between historical and present day cuts to the Arts and the old school solution of trying to marry wealth and power to maintain economic and cultural status was not lost on us.
Being sat in the Upper Circle afforded us a birds eye view of a choreography that to us at times appeared Busby Berkeley-esque in its kaleidescopic and refractive shapes; layers of Swans dancing fluidly as they performed the classic set pieces. So intense was this that when Von Rothbart meets his end in the swirling, angry and scornful flock of Swans, we forgot we were watching Tulle clad dancers and saw only hissing, feathery anger as he was subsumed beneath their outstretched necks and beating wings.
There was wit and humour too amid the dramatic and intensely moving Pas De Deux between the Prince and Odile/Odette and the leaping and scissoring extraordinarily long legs of the Prince. The Russian stagehands were utterly charming, the stage barely containing their personalities. The ‘head’ Chargehand stole his part of the show; his dancing was both elegantly languid and sharply precise – not as contradictory as it sounds. Did we get the impression of a group of stage hands that would rather fritter (and flutter) away their working days with pretty young ballerina’s in the wings? Yes we did actually- great acting from dancers of such a young age.
We cannot praise the achievements of the EYB enough (this is the seoond production of theirs we have attended) and appreciate Norwich Theatre Royal as a regional venue with a strong commitment to supporting Dance as well as other art forms. The theatre could not have been more welcoming, professional and efficient in its operations and it was a joy to see so many youngsters attending ballet.
Thanks to Mr John Bultitude for such a warm welcome.
The Theatre Royal did not solicit this review and all opinions are our own.