In a time of innovation and reinvention for Birmingham Royal Ballet – with recent announcements of a Black Sabbath ballet and BRB2, a new touring company comprised of ballet graduates – it’s good to see that the company are intent on performing the classics to their usual high standards. Judging from the packed Lyric theatre at The Lowry on press night, audience appetite for works such as Swan Lake is still very much there.
What’s striking about Peter Wright and Galina Samsova’s production is the attention to detail in storytelling. Opening with the death of Siegfried’s father justifies both the Prince’s melancholy at the beginning of the ballet and the need for him to marry and produce an heir to the throne. Introducing flirtatious courtesans in the Act I pas de trois gives Siegfried the opportunity to spurn their attentions, proving that his love for Odette is more than just a knee-jerk reaction to grief.
The often extraneous national dances of Act III are given purpose as performances by entourages of the visiting Princesses, whose solos tie into these dances choreographically. A particular highlight of this act is the swirling, vibrant, tambourine-accompanied Neapolitan dance.
Philip Prowse’s design effectively supports the storytelling. The sombre mood set by the funereal tableau at the initial rise of the curtain is continued visually in the muted greys and blacks of the costumes and the shadowy set in Act I; it sets up a contrast with the pearly luminescence of the flocking swans, and the rich gold, bronze and red palette of Act III. The only element of the design that’s lacking is the swan costumes – the tutus aren’t really birdlike enough, with their glittery bodices and lack of feathers, while their kokoshnik tiaras mask the traditional white head-dresses.
Mathias Dingman and Momoko Hirata’s interpretations of the lead roles may be more emotionally understated, but their dancing speaks for itself. Dingman’s leaps appear effortless and his stage presence is undeniable; Hirata’s Odette is all serene, exquisite control, dancing in a world of her own, while her mischievously grinning, Odile is dagger sharp and hyper-aware of her audience.
Hearing Tchaikovsky’s iconic, gloriously dramatic music played live by the brilliant Royal Ballet Sinfonia completes the performance.
All elements of this production work together in service of the narrative, maintaining classical tradition and creating a magical, doomed world that still has an enthralling power.
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake is at The Lowry, Salford from 2-4 March 2023.
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