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Arts Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet's Swan Lake

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I say Ballet, you say - Swan Lake, probably.

Universally acknowledged as one of the greats in the classical ballet calendar, Sir Peter Wright’s production in the care of the company does nothing less than impress. From Cadbury’s creation of chocolate birds to mark the occasion, to a ‘Flash Flock’ of swans descending on city goers, Birmingham Royal Ballet certainly marked the opening of a new season with style.

Telling the story of Princess Odette and her transformation into a swan, Swan Lake is marred with a kind of stunning tragedy from start to finish. The scene is set with the death of Prince Siegfried’s father; and to celebrate the boy’s 21st birthday he is presented with a flurry of potential brides.

Dreading the loss of his freedom, the protagonist is quick to succumb to the allure of the lakeside by moonlight. Here he is introduced to Odette and the wicked magician Rothbart, who has cast a spell over her and her companions, turning them into Swans. As they dance adoration develops, and a smitten Siegfried is ignorant to the charms of the sumptuous Hungarian, Polish and Italian princesses present at his ball.

Producing a score with its balletic adaptation in mind, Tchaikovsky demonstrates that ‘keys and their tonal opposition are related to character and situation’. Under the baton of Peter Murphy every flourish is felt, every detail emphasised. Moving through the courtly grandeur of Act I to the frothy pas de quatre, it is a soaring score universally iconic even outside of the ballet world.

Delia Matthews as Odette. Photo credit: Andrew Ross

Delia Matthews as Odette. Photo credit: Andrew Ross

Acts II and IV capture a corps de ballet that time after time takes the spectator’s breath away. The hovering divinity of 16 swans (not a little toe out of line) behind the early morning mist rising from the lake never fails to disrupt a silence in the audience. They are both darkness and light; initially appearing a group of vulnerable fledglings, only to flock to their Swan Queen’s defence as Rothbart seeks to slay her.

Act III is without a doubt my undisputed favourite; the darkness, the glamour, the gothic opulence, injecting poison into a ballet that for the most part appears a heavenly vision. It is here that Swan Queen Odette is replaced by Rothbart’s wicked daughter Odile, and in defeating the other princesses with her fiery influence, wins Prince Siegfried’s heart.

Taking the lead were Celine Gittens and Tyrone Singleton, a duo famed for their fearless brilliance. All the technical feats were in place, as the pair mastered the infamous 32 fouettes and challenging jumps whilst remaining sensitive to characterisation, making for an accomplished performance.

An evening in which heartbreak stood in its most beautiful form, fans of this timeless romance should note that the opening classic of the spring season is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. After all, what is love without tragedy?

Birmingham Royal Ballet continue to tour nationally with Swan Lake until January 2016. For more information and to book tickets, please visit the website: https://www.brb.org.uk/whats-on/event/swan-lake.

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