Review – Swan Lake in the Round, English National Ballet

Going to see The English National Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake in the Round’, performed at the Royal Albert Hall, earlier this week was the closest I have ever been to the action in a ballet. My wife and I had front row seats, and because of the layout of the staging, were literally within touching distance to the dancers. This made the experience completely different, in a good way, so I felt that I owed it to everyone that helped put this production together to do a short write-up on my blog.

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I was unsure whether to even call this a review, as in all honesty, who am I to be able to review what I saw that evening? Would I know whether the dancers’ jetés were ‘grande’ enough? Would I have noticed if a fouetté was perfectly executed? No, no I wouldn’t. So, I would prefer to call this ‘My Impressions’ as opposed to a strict ‘Review’.

It’s difficult to be able to truly do this ballet justice, in a write-up. After the ballet finished my wife and I were talking and I said that I felt that there should be new words invented, to be able to describe experiences like what we had just seen. There are so many words that are overused these days, that I feel that they lose their meaning slightly. ‘Passion’ is one of these words that I think gets banded-about so often, that it can lose its true meaning. Some people say that I’m passionate about the things that I do, but they is nothing in comparison to the people that have made ballet their lives. They are the ones that are passionate, not me. I’m just a bystander, that felt like they would like to get a greater understanding of ballet by actually attempting it. So, new words! That’s what is needed. Suggestions welcome! 🙂

The first thing that was noticeable was how intense a physical feat this was that we were seeing. It’s quite often that once you start to do something yourself, your eyes are opened to how tough it is. For me, even the most simplest of ballet moves are incredibly tough. Just staying in first position I find difficult, as there is so much to remember and every single part of your body is having to play a part of it. So, when I see the complex moves that the dancers are doing, along with the choreography that is necessary, it really does hit home to how tough it is.

Being so close to the action, I was able to see every single muscle fibre being brought into play to do what the dancers were doing. It was a privilege to be able to be so close, that it felt more like being witness to a live documentary on being in a ballet company.

These guys and girls are at the top of their games, and so many of them are so young. To be a world-class ballet dancer you need to have the strength of an Olympic athlete, the disciple of a military drill team, the flexibility of a gymnast, the musicality of a solo musician. Each of these individual traits are beyond the reach of the majority of people anyway, but when you are asking for someone to hold all of them, then you are going into a whole different realm of impossibility.

But these dancers have them all, and in excess.

Quite how the dancers remember all of the moves, I honestly don’t know. It’s the equivalent, in my eyes, to a musician memorising the entire score of a symphony and playing it with no sheet music. I remember reading the Jenifer Ringer (ex NYCB) autobiography, and she said that one of the ways that she remembers choreography is to ‘attach moves’ to certain notes or passages of music that the orchestra plays. That aside, I honestly still don’t know how they do it. It seems an impossible task.

Being an ex-Army Physical Training Instructor, I am used to seeing people’s physical efforts and understanding how much goes into creating them. This benefits me greatly in trying to comprehend how much effort is going into performing in a ballet. When you are close to the action as  I  was for this performance, I was able to see how hard the dancers were working and how much they try to conceal the effort. I noticed that some of the female dancers wore some kind of sweat cover-up on their backs and arms so that the audience was unaware of how tough it was. This is the first time I had ever seen this. You just don’t see it when you watch the ballet on the TV, or when you are a few few rows back in the stalls. But here I saw it, and only because I was looking so intently at what the dancers were doing. Some of the guys that were doing solos including lifting, looked like they were in the middle of the toughest PT lesson I have ever seen. They would do their part, then stand still, their lungs screaming for more oxygen, with a smile on their face! How do they do it? I look like an utter mess even when I’m just trying to complete a single pirouette. Utterly incredible!

One thing that I noticed was they the dancers never, ever ‘broke character’. It must be one of the toughest things to do, not look at the audience when you’re not supposed to. But they never did. The swans had their eyes down on the ground, even when they were inches away from you, but they never faltered. Their eyes never flitted and they never ‘gave the game away’ that they were performers.

And then they brought out smoke!! Like it wasn’t hard enough, when they could actually see the floor of the stage! How on earth do you do all of that, but without seeing the floor? What the???? Just <insert new word for amazing here>!!!

I wanted to say to every single dancer that all of the hard work that they do, the years of practice, the childhood that would have been taken up with ballet lessons, the pains and punishment that they put their bodies through every single day for our entertainment, is noticed and greatly appreciated. As a graphic designer for my day job, it is my job to notice details. And I know that I’m not alone. Anyone whose job involves attention-to-detail, anyone who has attempted ballet, or has a passion that they have had to sacrifice certain things for, would know how much has gone into producing dancing like this. So, thank you ENB, thank you to every single one of you.

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