Review: Swan Lake at Leeds Grand Theatre, Thursday, June 17, 2021

THE elaborate Victorian system of separate doors and staircases to each level of Leeds Grand Theatre has been key to the covid-secure reopening of the Grade ll* listed architectural jewel.

On 14th March 2020, Geisha, Northern Ballet’s newest creation was premiered at the Grand. Three days later, the lights were switched off in every theatre across the land. Many thought the shutdown would last just a few weeks. 450 days later, the dancers, creatives and technicians have made an emotional return to their home theatre with the world’s most famous ballet.

David Nixon, artistic director of Northern Ballet, has shifted the locale of Swan Lake to a lush lakeside estate in New England circa 1912. The plot centres on a love triangle of college best friends, Anthony - danced at this performance by Joseph Taylor and Simon - danced by Lorenzo Trossello. Abigail Prudames danced the dual roles of Odilia and the mystical swan creature, Odette, who competes with Simon for Anthony’s affections.

Northern Ballet’s style of narrative-based dance theatre propels the action forward in a physical language that is always deeply expressive. The famous Act l Waltz is interpreted by the company’s wonderful male dancers, playing and jostling before jumping into the lake to cool off. Close contact is of course crucial to the art form and to make it safe, the entire company has divided into two “bubbles” that undertake alternate performances.

Fortunately, the Grand Theatre’s orchestra pit is spacious enough to accommodate the 35 musicians of the Northern Ballet Sinfonia with one metre-plus distancing. Jonathan Lo conducts a translucent account of Tchaikovsky’s great musical score - with two notable additions: Anthony’s brilliantly staged coming of age party is danced to the boisterous Theme and Variations from Tchaikovsky’s Orchestral Suite No 3. The achingly beautiful Adagio from his Symphony No 5 accompanies Anthony and Odilia’s tender Act lll scene.

Nixon’s ethereal stage pictures are perfectly complemented by Dave Gillan’s ravishing scenic design of tall reeds and glistening waters against a backdrop of tinted skies, beautifully lit by Peter Mumford.

The production’s undoubted “wow” factor produced a deluge of cheers and bravos from the socially distanced audience of 750. Some of the dancers appeared visibly moved by the reception.

Leeds Heritage Theatres Ltd deserve enormous credit for creating a welcoming environment which includes an “in seat” interval drinks service. It almost felt like going home after a long absence.

Northern Ballet’s Swan Lake runs at Leeds Grand until Saturday, June 26.