Sunday, 25 November 2018

English National Ballet's Swan Lake: Kanehara conquers the Empire

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English National Ballet Swan Lake Liverpool Empire 23 Nov 2018, 19:30

There are a lot of shows that call themselves Swan Lake but unless they turn on the impersonation of Odette, the deception of Siegfried and the breaking of the spell they are not Swan Lake.  You can strip out all the divertissements, have swans of both or either gender, dispense with feathers and tutus, dump them in a tank of water and even substitute a Kalashnikov for a crossbow but so long as you have an Odette-Odile danced by the same artist it will still be Swan Lake.  Take her away and it is something else even if you keep cygnets and feathery white tutus.   It may still be a good show (and many of them such as Graeme Murphy's are) but give it another name.  Monkeying with such a perfect piece of theatre really makes my blood boil far more even than stick toting wilis in disused garment factories

On Friday I saw a very good Swan Lake at the Liverpool Empire and what made it good was the performance of Rina Kanehara in the lead role.  Where did she come from?  I must have seen her before as she is a soloist but she has never grabbed my attention as she did on Friday night.  She was a lovely Odette. As delicate as Dresden porcelain.  As light as a lily.  And I felt that she was living Odette and not just dancing it.  How could she possibly change into the imperious, scheming, seductive magician's daughter of the black act after just 20 minutes interval?

But change she did.  When she reappeared in her black blue flecked tutu she was magnificent.  Clearly, she was the same woman but quite a different character and she seemed to live that role too. She was very strong, robust and as indestructible and flexible as wire appearing to deliver Legnani's 32 fouettés effortlessly.   The English National Ballet has a star in Kanehara and I will seek out her performances from now on.

A good Odette needs a good Siegfried and the company produced one in Ken Saruhashi.  Like Kanehara he is a soloist though it appears from his biography that he has danced leading roles before.  He is tall, slender and very strong.  He lifted Odette as if she were weightless and some of his jumps in the betrothal pas de deux drew my breath away.  The crowd loved him.  I heard loud Russian type growls from behind me in the auditorium, the sort you hear regularly in live streaming from Moscow or even occasionally in Covent Garden but hardly ever outside London.

A lot of dancers impressed me on Friday night and it would be invidious to single out any for special praise. It was good to see Jane Haworth as Siegried's mum and Michael Coleman as his tutor and master of ceremonies again.  I liked Erik Woodhouse, Anjuli Hudson and Adela Ramirez in the pas de trois.  Ramirez was also one of the cygnets with Alice Bellini, Katja Khaniukova and Emilia Cadorin all of whom were good.  Hudson delighted me with her Neapolitan dance in Act III where she was partnered by Barry Drummond.  This is a delightful piece which I am sure Sir Frederick Ashton created for the Royal Ballet for it has all his hallmarks on it.  In fact, I remember Wayne Sleep in that role with (I believe) Jennifer Penney.  The Royal Ballet no longer seem to do it and it is good to know that our other great national company does.  Finally, I congratulate Isabelle Brouwers and Tiffany Hedman as lead swans.  I noticed Skyler Martin whom I remember from the Dutch National Ballet and it is good to welcome him to these shores.

English National Ballet's website quotes The Sunday Express in describing the production as "One of the best productions of Swan Lake you are likely to see."  I don't agree with that newspaper on much but I think that its dance critic was right on this point.  I have seen a lot of Swan Lakes in nearly 60 years of regular ballet going including Liam Scarlett's and the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre's with Denis Rodkin this year but this is definitely the best Swan Lake of those three and one of the best of all time. I like Peter Farmer's designs and the ENB Philharmonic under Huddersfield trained Gavin Sutherland. I always give him a cheer for that though I would anyway as he is good.

Altogether it was an excellent show in a fine auditorium with an appreciative crowd.  This is not the first time I have seen an outstanding Swan Lake at the Empire.  David Dawson's very different but equally good production for Scottish Ballet was performed there (see Empire Blanc: Dawson's Swan Lake 4 June 2916).  The Empire's audience seems passionate about dance and quite a few rose to their feet at the curtain call.  I think that the crowd lifted the dancers on Friday.  It was everything a night at the ballet should be.

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