swan finale

The thwarted Rothbart ends as the loser with, in the background, Seigfried and Odette, now freed from her spell, together in their ethereal world of eternal love

Swan Lake

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome


Swan Lake vies with another of Tchaikovsky’s classics, The Nutcracker, as the world’s most popular and most performed in ballet and there is no doubting that Sir Peter Wright’s versions of both are benchmarks for any ballet company. They are both quite superb.

It is easy to see why Swan Lake tops many a popularity poll, it has a handsome hero and an evil villain along with a beautiful tragic heroine who is every wide-eyed little girl’s dream of a ballerina – and the music . . .

Tchaikovsky writes some of the most symphonic scores found in ballet, pieces that are instantly recognisable and under the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by Philip Ellis, the score becomes a sumptuous treat with leader Robin Gibbs worth a bow alone for his haunting solo violin playing.

Last night saw the return of this classic almost three years to the day since it last entranced BRB’s home audience with Prince Siegfried, danced by César Morales on Press night and Odette danced by Miki Mizutani with their tragic tale of a princess turned into a swan in daylight hours by evil sorcerer Baron von Rothbart, danced with satanic delight by Jonathan Payn.

Chilean Morales makes it all look so easy, on leaps he just seems to be in the air that fraction longer than physics should allow, and like world class footballers, he seems to have that bit more time in everything he does.

Siegfried falls in love with Odette on a swan hunt one night – timing here being crucial as she is only human between midnight and dawn – the hunt being a diversion from his having to find a bride on the orders of his mother, the recently widowed queen, danced by Daria Stanciulescu.

With a kingdom on offer to the lucky girl Rothbart takes his chance and tricks him into pledging to marry his daughter Odile who he has transformed by magic to look just like Odette, or as the more observant might notice, Miki Mizutani in a black tutu.

 From there is all gets a bit messy as we get a storm and battle by the lake . . .let’s just say it doesn’t end well. The prince and his swan lady live happily ever after – just not in the same world as the rest of us.

All right, its all a bit of a stretch plotwise, but then people pack out cinemas for Marvel films, so don’t knock it.

The Prince and Odette/Odile dance quite beautifully. Miki Mizutani, who became a Principal last year, hails from Japan and danced with a delightful, delicate precision.


Swans emerging from the mist in the stunning opening to the final act.

I remember her as a last minute stand-in for Momoko Hirata, another Japanese dancer, who had fallen ill, as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutdracker in 2019, dancing again with César Morales, and noting then her technical ability.

Four years on and she is a lovely, confident dancer and gave the role an air of innocent tragedy as if she already knew the fate awaiting her.

A party piece for any ballerina is Odile’s fouettés in Act III, repeated rapid turns en pointe on one leg, the other leg, never touching the ground, acting as the means of propulsion. Not easy and the programme says there are 32 turns. I lost count in the high 20s, but Miki managed the feat with a robotic elegance and I swear her toe fulcrum didn’t move a centimetre from the spot. That’s real class for you.

The ballet gives opportunities for solos from many dancers with Haoliang Feng as Benno, Siegfried’s best mate, and Karla Doorbar and Beatrice Parma as a couple of courtesans, providig a collection of solos and pas de trois as well as a pas de quatre with the prince.

Then there is dance of the cygnets from Rosanna Ely, Reina Fuchigami, Sofia Liñares and Rachele Pizzillo, who danced the iconic routine as one.

Rather like Nutcracker with its national dances, here we get a Czárdás from Emma Price and Kit Holder, a Mazurka, a Neapolitan Dance from Karla Doorbar, Reina Fuchigami, Enrique Bejarano Vidal and Gus Payne and a Spanish Dance from Eilis Small, Yuki Sugiura, Gabriel Anderson and Mason King. Something for everyone in that lot.

Philip Prowse designs give us the gloomy palace in mourning after the funeral of the king, an even gloomier lakeside and the sumptuous palace for the ball scene when the Queen brings in eligible princesses for the Prince to select a bride. He is also responsible for the fabulously rich costumes.

Act IV opens with one of my favourite scenes in theatre as the swans emerge through a cloud of mist. It is all enhanced by Peter Teigen’s lighting adapted by Johnny Westall-Eyre, with some subtle touches, such as the gentle moving reflections of light on the edge of the lake to suggest water.

Incidentally, Swan Lake, despite now being a go to hit for ballet companies world wide, was a real turkey when it first hit the stage in Moscow in 1877; the critics complied music was too loud, too symphonic, undanceable with the dances too complicated according to some, unimaginative according to others - hard lot the Russian criterati it seems . . .

Still, it managed 41 performances before having a rejig in 1895 in St Petersberg, choreographed by Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa who set it on its way as a favourite ballet with Sir Peter Wright adding his genius to the mix in 1981, making it a not so much undanceable as an unbeatable ballet.

Swan Lake will said serenely on to 25-02-23 with cast lists for performances (subject to change) available here

Roger Clarke



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