Swan Lake

Market Drayton Festival Centre, 19 June 2018

‘Welcome to the greatest show on earth,’ we’re told at the start of ITV’s World Cup coverage. Images of a ballerina in a white tutu alternate with circus acts and footballers – all moving to the dramatic swan theme from the ballet Swan Lake.

The World Cup comes around every four years but a new production of Swan Lake from the Royal Ballet has taken thirty years. Fans of classical ballet at the Festival Centre had no doubt as to which was the greatest show on earth. They gasped, sighed, and applauded their way through the performance streamed onto the big screen. For many it was as much of an emotional roller-coaster as following the England team in that other show currently under way.

Vadim Muntagirov (Prince Siegfried) Marianela-Nuñez (Odile) ©-ROH-2018 Bill Cooper

Our commentators were former Royal Ballet principal dancer Darcey Bussell and BBC sports broadcaster Ore Oduba, Strictly Come Dancing judge and winner respectively. They gave deep background (‘the production was three years in the making’); tips about what to look out for (‘tremendous precision in the corps de ballet, an astonishing 32 continuous spins in Act 3’) and reaction from key players (‘It touches your soul. It’s a treasure.’)

Princess Odette has been turned into a swan by the sorcerer Von Rothbart. While celebrating his birthday, Prince Siegfried is told he must choose a wife at the forthcoming ball. Upset that he cannot marry for love, Siegfried takes time out to hunt swans. By moonlight at an enchanted lake Odette takes on human form and Siegfried pledges the true love which will break the spell. But at the ball Rothbart’s daughter Odile, looking like Odette, seduces Siegfried. In falling for this ‘black swan’, he breaks his oath to Odette, with tragic consequences.

Tchaikovsky’s music has enabled this unlikely fairy story to become the most popular of classical ballets. He wrote both grand and glittering sections that showcase dashing ‘character’ dances at the birthday party and the ball; gorgeous dances for the swan maidens’ symmetrical set pieces; and above all he beautifully developed and varied that central swan theme throughout the emotional core of the story.

Artists of The Royal Ballet ©-ROH-2018.Photograph by Bill-Cooper

We heard the theme on strings, with harp, and as an oboe solo; at different speeds; and in various keys with differing dynamics.

Argentine dancer Marianela Nuñez, as both Odette and Odile, was superbly responsive to these variations. Vadim Muntagirov, dancing Siegfried, was princely in every sense. His virtuosic solo pirouettes seemed to equal the technical brilliance of Nuñez but it was their tenderness together that most thrilled the audience.

The magnificent sets switched seamlessly between gothic splendour and gothic gloom for a new-look production which nevertheless kept its fans happy with largely traditional choreography.