Swans bring a classic to life

Dance of the cygnets.  Photos Bill Cooper

Swan Lake

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome


ASK anyone to name a ballet and the chances are it will be Swan Lake. Tchaikovsky's masterpiece is the epitome of classical ballet with soaring, symphonic music and technically demanding dances -along with a whole flock of swans.

This BRB production is 31 years old now but you would never know it as it comes over as fresh and vibrant as ever thanks to a little tweaking here and there by its venerable choreographer Peter Wright who was in the audience on opening night.

The result is something which is just beautiful and moving to watch aided by that marvellous score played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Koen Kessels.

If I knew more about the technicalities of ballet then perhaps I might have found some fault with Nao Sakuma's performance as Odette and Odile, but I don't so I can't, so as far as I, and I am sure most of the audience were concerned, her performance was as close to perfection as you are likely to get.

Chi Cao as Prince Siegfried was technically always strong and he seemed to grow into the role emotionally as the night went on so that by the time he leapt into the lake to be forever with his Princess Odette we feel for the lad.

Behind every goody you have to have a baddy and there was a memorable performances from Jonathan Payn as the dastardly Baron von Rothbart, who was soundly booed at the end while Mathias Dingman as the Prince's companion Benno was the perfect royal best mate.

A mention too for Arancha Baselga, Laura-Jane Gibson, Maureya Lebowitz and Laura Purkiss as the cygnets. The dance of the cygnets is one of the highlights of Swan Lake and a party piece for generations of aspiring ballerinas and the BRB quartet gave them something to strive for with a delightful dance sporting perfect synchronisation. A fraction out and the dance just  looks a mess and these four made it look oh so delicate and easy.

Nao Sakuma as Odette and Chi Cao as Prince Siegfried

Not that it was just them making it all look a piece of cake, the 16 swans in the corps all moved as one to create a spectacle and I must admit their opening to act IV is one of my favourite scenes in all of theatre when the curtain rises to reveal a deep layer of mist and suddenly all 16 swans appear from below through the white clouds. It always gets gasps of delighted surprise and a round of applause and whoever first thought of that opening to the final act fully deserves it.

The swans are perhaps one of the reasons the ballet is so popular, a stage full of dazzling white tu-tus with a line of dancers who are everyone's idea of what a ballerina looks like.

It is not just the dancing, based on the original choreography of Leve Ivanov and Marius Petipa from 1895, or the music which makes this ballet so special though. This is the whole package.

 The sets designed by Philip Prowse, whether the courtyard with its blacks, olds and silvers of a court in mourning, or the lakeside, or the ballroom with its huge chandeliers, are just magnificent while Peter Teigen's dramatic lighting all adds to the sense of theatre to help produce a quite stunning performance.Swan Lake continues to 06-09-12

Roger Clarke 


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