Ballet bosses hope 'epic' Swan Lake production shows importance of funding UK arts

Ballet bosses are hoping their "epic" staging of Swan Lake prompts the next government to recognise the "critical" importance of arts funding.

English National Ballet artistic director Aaron Watkin, and the Royal Albert Hall's director of audiences, Louise Halliday, have spoken to Sky News about their concerns - as ballerinas impress fans with their restaging of a classic.

"Policies and funding are hugely important. They're critical," Watkin explains in reference to maintaining Britain's cultural reputation.

There are less than a handful of dance companies in the world that would be able to stage a show like the one currently being performed at the Royal Albert Hall.

Even non-dancers are aware of Swan Lake, but reconfigured to be staged in-the-round the choreography is jaw-dropping - the huge swarms of feathers perfectly in sync with every single detail from every angle.

"We hire an extra 60 dancers for this production," Watkin explains. "You've got over 100 performers on stage, so it's just the sheer size of it."

He describes the "massive undertaking" as effectively "taking three Swan Lakes and putting it into one."

Even finding enough dressing rooms is a challenge. "The sheer amount of people coming onto the stage is mind-boggling," Watkin adds.

With dancers on stage pretty much throughout for lead principal Francesco Gabriele Frola, it is incredibly demanding.

He admits while he's used to going off stage after solos "to breathe a little bit", it's much harder having to "stick around and not look tired".

Audiences say it is a staging which stays with you.

Originally choreographed for the Royal Albert Hall by Derek Deane over 25 years ago, Swan Lake in-the-round caused a sensation at its premiere, which was attended by Princess Diana.

It's since been enjoyed by over 500,000 people worldwide.

Back in 1997, it made waves in the dance world, in a year when Britain itself made a big political pivot with Tony Blair winning a Labour landslide. Of course, some polls now suggest the Conservatives are on course for the worst electoral defeat since that time.

"Arts and culture are not an extra thing," Watkin insists.

"They're essential… and, obviously to be enjoyed at all times, but I think in periods of difficulties, what we're going through in the world right now, people need this to inspire their hearts and souls.

"I would hope that whatever government is coming in, [it] will really take this seriously and value the importance of creative industries so that we can flourish and continue to inspire the next generation."

Read more from Sky News:
Swift's message to Prince William after selfie
Timberlake addresses tough week after arrest
Crowe on Glastonbury and Gladiator sequel jealousy

Louise Halliday, one of the original dancers photographed with Princess Diana in 1997, says the royal came to meet the cast a number of times.

"She was just so unrelentingly positive and always interested in how we were; 'how are your feet? Are they sore?'" Halliday explains.

Now a director at the Royal Albert Hall, she tells Sky News she remembers dancing the show "like it was yesterday".

"We all felt a part of the positivity," she says. "And I think something that we're all looking forward to [in Britain], is a bit of positivity in the national mood."

Halliday hopes her concern that the arts are slipping down the school agenda will be addressed by whoever forms the next government.

"Without children having access, how are we going to ignite that creative spark for future generations of singers, dancers, performers, playwrights? We have to think long term and it starts in school."

English National Ballet's Swan Lake runs at the Royal Albert Hall until Sunday.