swan pas

Céline Gittens as Odette and Yasiel Hodelin Bello as Prince Siegfried.

Pictures: Caroline Holden

Tchaikovsky Classics

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Symphony Hall


Now we all know BRB are not too shabby at ballet, after all they prove it time after time, turning music into magic on the cavernous Hippodrome stage, but what a delight it is to see the Royal Ballet Sinfonia not only in the spotlight but above ground.

Usually they are merely heard and only seen as an ethereal glow from beneath the stage with the only clue anyone is there being the very top of the conductor’s head, often principal conductor Paul Murphy, who, incidentally will also become BRB’s new Music Director in July.

He is instantly recognisable as we share the same hairstyle, pink, and, for once we can see the enthusiasm and energy he puts into conducting not only one of the finest ballet orchestras around but one of the finest symphony orchestras – just look on any music streaming service for the range of their back catalogue from classical, ballet, through Gilbert and Sullivan, to TV and movie themes.

The evening also gave the orchestra leader, the exceptional violinist Robert Gibbs, a chance to shine, another you can catch on music streaming sites in his own right or as part of the Flesch Quartet.

The programme opened with a rousing Polacca from The Sleeping Beauty as a prelude to the first dance, a delightful Dance of the Cygnets from Swan Lake from Elmhurst Ballet School graduate Olivia Chang Clarke along with Rosanna Ely, Reina Fuchigami and Rachele Pizzillo, who displayed the required precise, nimble quick footwork and danced in perfect unison.


Olivia Chang Clarke, Rachelle Pizzillo, Rosanna Ely and Reina Fuchigami as Cygnets

That was followed by Swan Lake's Odette and Prince Siegfried pas de deux from BRB favourite Céline Gittens and Cuban soloist Yasiel Hodelin Bello who arrived at the company last year.

The pair did well, as did all the dancers, to perform so wonderfully on what is an unfamiliar, elongated and relatively narrow stage area.

Another orchestral interlude with Tchaikovsky’s Russian dance before moving on to Tchaikovsky’s longest ballet, The Sleeping Beauty and the Garland Dance with a dozen pupils of Elmhurst Ballet School showing ability beyond their years before Tzu-Chao Chou gave us Prince Florimund’s solo.

Tchaikovsky’s ballets are steeped in fantasy producing the Bluebird and Enchanted Princess pas de deux and its solos and coda from Act III of The Sleeping Beauty beautifully danced by Sofia Liñares and Enrique Bejarano Vidal.

Back to the Sinfonia and Marche Slave Op.31, a piece from 1876 commissioned by The Russian Musical Society for a concert in aid of the Red Cross Society for the benefit of Serbian veterans wounded in Serbia’s war against the Ottomans – the Anglicised title referring to Slavs rather than slaves. After a rousing start a rousing finale to the half.

It was conducted, incidentally, by Chinese conductor and Constant Lambert Conducting Fellow Yi Wei on his BRB debut.

Watered and refreshed the second half started with the Act III Polonaise from Eugene Onegin, Tchaikovsky’s opera based on Pushkin’s novel in verse, another up tempo opener.

That brought us to the familiar Grand Pas de deux of the Prince and The Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutcracker, BRB’s gift to the city when it first arrived back in 1990. It was danced in style by Miki Mizutani and Max Maslen.


Tzu-Chao Chou as Prince Florimund from The Sleeping Beauty

The Sinfonia again with Capriccio Italien, their longest piece of the evening, inspired by Tchaikovsky’s trip to Rome and mixing Italian street and folk songs with his symphonic scoring.

Which brought us to the finale and the black swan pas de deux from Swan lake with Yu Kurihara as Odile and Lachlan Monaghan as Prince Siegfried.

Here we only see one half of the difficulty of Odile’s role, creating the contrast between the ballerina’s dual role as the tender, gentle white swan Odette and the harder and seductive, scheming Odile.

But we do see the technical challenges for both prince and swan in one of ballet’s more difficult pieces. Don’t bother to count Kurihara’s difficult and exhausting turns, her fouettés, by the way, you will run out of fingers, and toes, long before she finishes, a breathtaking 32, the norm, at a guess, and Monaghan matches her with the Prince's spectacular series of jumps.

This is a couple who really do excel condensing one of the most expansive of pas de deux in ballet on to the front of stage strip at Symphony hall.

Incidentally, Paul Murphy gave us a detailed history of Odile as the Black Swan – who started off as merely Von Rothbart’s nasty enchantress of a daughter in a blue dress in the successful 1895 production – the original 1877 premiere has been not so much a swan as a complete turkey - a real dying swan.

It wasn’t until a 1920 production at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, that Odile, danced by the same dancer as Odette, was dressed as a mirror image but in a black dress - evil black contrasting with true love's purity of white.

It brought to an end a sparking evening of music and dance from a leading ballet company and renowned orchestra, all celebrating the legacy of Tchaikovsky.

Roger Clarke


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