Swan Lake 2008 Reviews
Reviewed by Mike Dixon, Dance Europe
This production of Swan Lake,
produced by Patricia McDonald and directed and choreographed by David Needham, is characterised by qualities of clarity and sound logic that would be the envy of many professional touring companies. The sets by Philip Radcliffe and Gary Whittaker may be minimal but they are well conceived and feature two of the best backdrops for this ballet I have seen for some time: the first act with a Rhineland castle on a hill within a huge vista and the second with a view of distant mountains seen across a lake through a wide clearing in the trees. The students of the Northern School of Ballet are well drilled and innately musical, retaining their ensemble quality throughout the production. This occasionally leads to the corps de ballet looking like a musical chorus line dancing to Tchaikovsky, but their professional discipline is outstanding and a testament to Needham's coaching.
The first act honours go to Martin O'Gorman as Siegfried, called here simply Prince, and Adam Denman as Benno, who both have plenty of dancing to do, with Denman partnering Jennifer Stones and Rie Matsumiya in an exhilarating pas de trois that is a model of crispness and precision. All three performers have an expansive manner of presentation that embraces the audience. O'Gorman and Denman share a lack of elegant line but can rattle off double tours and pirouettes with the best of them. There is a moment of comedy when the Queen arrives and O'Gorman takes a nervous gulp of his drink that is sublimely timed. The Danse des Coupes that ends the act uses 16 dancers who seem unconstrained by the small stage.
Sumire Ogata as a cutely miniature Odette is delightfully quick with faultless musicality but lacks lyricism until later in the second act, when her arms take on a pleasing melting quality in keeping with the choreography. Later, in the ballroom scene, the Odile of Ayaka Kamei springs up from behind Von Rothbart's cloak and we know immediately that this is a young dancer in command of her role, with both stage presence and authority. She is strongly partnered by O'Gorman and they give a spirited rendition of the Black Swan, where she makes short work of the 32 fouéttes. Not only are the turns crisp and sharp, she looks as if she enjoys every second of the pas de deux. O'Gorman is not destined to be a classical dancer but he deserves respect for his commitment to his role and for his admirable partnering. The delightful Rie Matsumiya and Adam Denman deliver a delicious Neapolitan; and Sydney Green as the Russian Princess displays admirable stamina and poise in her solo.
There are unusually telling moments in the production: time freezes for everyone in the ballroom except Rothbart (an excellent Christopher Shoesmith), the Prince and Odile immediately after the evil ones enter and their ensuing hypnotic pas de trois makes perfect sense at this moment. After the Black Swan, Odile and Siegfried join the rest of the courtiers in a brief ensemble of celebration, which again seems entirely appropriate, before Rothbart commands him to make his oath of love to his daughter. After their triumph over the hapless prince, the pair pause for a moment of exultanting at the top of the stairs before dashing offstage. Again, this is theatrically powerful. David Needham deserves a huge feather in his cap for this staging.
Reviewed by Ian Palmer, Dancing Times
The Northern Ballet School, whose classical wing goes by the title Manchester City Ballet for public outings, offered four performances of Swan Lake at the beginning of December, of which I saw the first on December 4th. The production is by former Northern Ballet Theatre principal dancer David Needham (after Petipa/Ivanov), clean and concise in the telling of its tale with painterly and economical designs from Philip Radcliffe and Gary Whittaker, especially evocative in the two lakeside acts.
It is a daunting ballet for any company, least of all school students (many in their first term) for whom it is a baptism of fire. The NBS always perform a full-length classic as its Christmas show (it boasts attractive versions of The Nutcracker, Giselle and Coppélia also by Needham), because, as the school's director Patricia McDonald told me, it provides her students with a dancer's "Green Cross Code", an opportunity to study the basics of corps de ballet work from within a complete performance. Indeed the school's corps is a delight: beautifully unified (though I wished for a little more "give" in the upper body) and - here is the key - thoroughly professional in its manner. When one girl in the Act III Spanish Dance found the hem of her skirt to be coming off, she did not bat an eyelid and continued to dance, always just avoiding a dangerous fall. The show must, as the old saying has it, go on.
The production allows for that dubious fellow Benno, danced with technical verve by Adam Denman, a real fire-cracker of a dancer who substituted a series of very good barrel turns at the end of the Act I Pas de Trois. Martin O'Gorman was Siegfried, noble in his bearing, strong in his partnering and with all the makings of a fine danseur noble (though perhaps less declamatory in his mime). Odette and Odile were danced by separate performers. Sumire Ogata was Odette, fluid in her line, sculpting her dance around the score, always suggestive of that melancholic awe which so attracts Siegfried. As Odile, Ayaka Kamei was brilliant in her technical prowess (dazzling fouéttes executed sur place). She was a tremendous Swanilda in her first term at the school two years ago, bright in step and phrasing, but now she commands an additional authority: no longer just a promising student, she is a ballerina to watch.