Just after she retired from writing, dance critic Mary Clarke exclaimed to me, with a wicked twinkle in her eye, “I never have to see Swan Lake ever again!” I knew exactly what she meant, as sometimes attending a performance of that most famous of ballets can become a chore rather than a pleasure, especially if you have to write a review afterwards.
So was the case – with one major exception – at English National Ballet’s Swan Lake on the afternoon of 19 January. It was a mid-week matinée, and the company were giving a humdrum account of the work. Nothing was intrinsically bad about it, but it all looked routine, with the swans swanning around by the lake as they are wont to do, Rothbart (Fabian Reimair) madly flapping his wings, and the Swan Queen (Natascha Mair) jumping to her death at the end.
Amidst them, however, was the wonderful guest artist Brooklyn Mack, who was making his London debut as Prince Siegfried. Born in South Carolina and trained at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington DC, Mack is tall and dark-skinned, with an exceptional physique and an expressive face – he took to the stage of the London Coliseum with a series of impressive jumps that covered the floor, and it was difficult to take your eyes away from him for the remainder of the ballet.
Mack has an understated charisma in Swan Lake – he is never flashy and attention-grabbing, and he performed the choreography in Derek Deane’s traditional production with nobility and grace. This quiet, brooding dignity served him well as an attentive partner in the pas de deux with both Odette and Odile, showing the audience the hushed depth of his love; he supported his ballerina with a manly strength, and he used these same qualities to give an impressively smooth and flowing account of Siegfried’s adagio solo at the end of Act I. It was marvellous to see such absorption from Mack in this role, and I hope English National Ballet (or any other UK-based company for that matter) invite him back soon.
Otherwise, it was just another performance of Swan Lake, and the audience still chatted through Tchaikovsky’s magnificent music when there was nothing happening on stage.
Brooklyn Mack with the English National Ballet
Jonathan Gray was editor of Dancing Times from 2008 to 2022.
He studied at The Royal Ballet School, Leicester Polytechnic, and Wimbledon School of Art where he graduated with a BA Hons in Theatre Design. He was on the Curatorial Staff of the Theatre Museum, London, from 1989 to 2005, assisting on a number of dance-related exhibitions, and helping with the recreation of original designs for a number of The Royal Ballet’s productions including Danses concertantes, Daphnis and Chloë, and The Sleeping Beauty. He has also contributed to the Financial Times and The Guardian, written programme articles for The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, and is co-author of the book Unleashing Britain: Theatre gets real 1955-64, published in 2005.