Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake, The Lowry, September 23 2015

With Swan Lake being such a classic, it ways runs the danger of being a safely enjoyable but slightly dull way to spend an evening. However, David Bintley has once more pulled it out of the bag with his energetic direction of Peter Wright’s masterpiece.

Regardless of your personal opinion of Ballet, any Birmingham Royal Ballet production promises to be an amazing visual feat of scenery and costume and this was certainly no exception. The opening funeral procession managed to set the overall gothic tone perfectly but the beauty was in small details: the dyed black sole and side pointe shoes. The Lyric Theatre really lent itself to the brassy sound of the Royal Ballet Symphonia, giving Tchaikovsky’s score the richness it deserves.

The performance did appear to suffer from being the opening night of both the tour and at the venue. Spacing was occasionally wince-inducingly close, the odd company section slightly out of time and the curtain call was rather sloppy. Yet this was made up for by the leading couple, whose chemistry was the overriding memory of the night.

Céline Gittens, a First Soloist tackling the dual swan role, made a suitably demure Odette but really found her own when dancing Odile. She is clearly a highly skilled character artist, managing to be coy, flirtatious and slightly evil simultaneously. However, she backed this up with clear physical virtuosity, making the principle fouettés en tourant look completely effortless. It would not be surprising to find her promoted to Principle by next season’s tour. Tyrone Singleton compliment Gittens perfectly as Prince Siegfried, making a seamless transition between mourning and lust. His grace comes as surprising given his tall frame, making him perfect for such traditional lead roles. Perhaps most importantly, he managed to save the caricature ending from making the whole evening disappointing: Baron von Rothbart met his end having lost his helmet in battle with Siegfried in a manner that was so reminiscent of Darth Vader’s death, it was very hard to keep a straight face. Luckily, Singleton managed to kill himself directly after with such embodiment of pain and loss, the helmet incident was all but forgotten.

Act III’s Spanish Dance was an unsuspected highlight. Being the final company of the three princesses to be presented, it can often feel like a drawn-out filler before the grand pas a deux. However, the energetic dance combined with aptly slapped tambourines really did lift the middle of the act and made you wonder why Prince Siegfried was in any doubt over which of the three to choose. The four cygnet, as ever, were a wonder of fast footwork and a marvel to behold. Going at a slightly faster tempo than typical was a dangerous move but one that the quartet stepped up to. Special mention should also go to William Bracewell, playing Benno, for his determined playfulness throughout the night.

This production of Swan Lake is almost unique in ballet in having a universal appeal: it’s visually impressive enough to interest those who don’t like the art form, different enough to keep the cynical critic away, and a brilliant retelling of one of the greatest love stories of all time.
Elizabeth Mitchell

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