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A pair of queens...

Momoko Hirata on stage. Pic: Bill Cooper
Momoko Hirata on stage. Pic: Bill Cooper

Birmingham Royal Ballet revives Peter Wright and Galina Samsova’s highly-acclaimed Swan Lake on a tour of select dates, including Salford's Lowry (March 2-4).

While different dancers will perform the twin roles of Odette and Odile during the the run, the opening Salford performance features Japanese ballerina Momoko Hirata. Born in Gunma, Japan and trained at the Reiko Yamamoto Ballet School and Royal Ballet School, Momoko joined BRB in 2003 and has been one of the company's principals since 2013.

Known for precise, feisty performances of great charisma and depth, we spoke to her in advance of her Salford visit.

"Swan Lake an iconic love story about Prince Siegfried (opposite Momoko will be Mathias Dingman) and the Swan Queen, Odette," she said. "I play both the White Swan and the Black Swan, and it's certainly a technical challenge. It's incredibly demanding as you play two different sides, and Act Three has a notorious demand for 32 fouettes (360-degree, en-pointe spins, in succession). But getting the chance to play two different people is also what I enjoy most."

Naturally, such a pair of roles adds more to the rehearsal proccess: "We have a very intense rehearsal process, but this part for me is familiar as I last played Odette/Odile three years ago, just before Covid hit and we had to finish early.

"It’s weird, as my body still kind of remembers the steps and everything. I’m really excited to pick up where we left off and push myself even further than three years ago."

Momoko started dancing when she was five, then later came to the UK to study at the Royal Ballet School. "It’s funny, as the first ballet performance I saw in London was Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake. So for me this is a very special ballet that I’ve always dreamt of being part of.

"I studied at the Royal Ballet School for two years and then joined Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2003. Again, Swan Lake was one of the first ballets I performed in. This is actually my fifth Swan Lake here. I’ve pretty much done every role, as I joined in the Corps de Ballet and this is my third time playing Odette and Odile."

Becoming a ballerina wasn't originally about becoming a great dancer, she confesses: "I always wanted to wear a tutu! I have two older sisters who both started ballet before me, and I used to go and see their school performances when I was really young and just fell in love with the costumes! So that’s how I got into ballet really - I just wanted to be a princess in a tutu!"

The typical day of a ballet star isn't really about looking like a princess, though: "Once we go on tour it’s slightly different to what we do in Birmingham during rehearsals," she explains. "When we’re in the studio we have a class at 10.30am and then rehearse until 6.30pm, five days a week, so it’s pretty full-on. Once we go on tour and are performing, principals do one or two shows a week, so we have a bit more free time – but obviously the pressure is really high.

"I always enjoy performing Swan Lake though; the music is so special so I hope that comes across to audiences. Everyone on stage is giving their heart out, not just the principals but the Corps de Ballet too. You have sixteen swans dancing together all in line, and I know from experience how hard it is to be in sync. I hope audiences appreciate that as well.

"Swan Lake is so iconic - everything you think of when you think of ballet is in there - and there’s something for everyone, from the big numbers to the sets and costumes and beautiful music."

Momoko dances the ballet's leading roles on March 2.

More info and tickets here


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