Updated: Aug 3, 2021
Petipa & Ivanov, Tchaikovsky
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Lyric Theatre, The Lowry, Salford
4-7 March 2020: 2hr 50min
The sumptuous production of Swan Lake created by Sir Peter Wright and Galina Samsova 40 years ago – and premiered in Manchester in 1981, let it not be forgotten – has served Birmingham Royal Ballet well.
It’s notable for the opulence (and sheer weight!) of many of its court scene costumes, and for an approach to dramaturgy that gives the fairytale-like romance of its storyline some semblance of realism. No cardboard swan jerkily bobbing across the back of the scene here, as you get in some old-fashioned versions, and a Benno who’s a cheerful foil to the Prince, but not just a silly comic turn in the way the Russians seem to like.
And there’s a magnificent coup de theatre as the final act opens, with a wall of dry-ice mist and all the swan maidens completely hidden behind it, only to emerge, magically, to oohs and aahs from the audience. There’s also quite a lot of semi-darkness in the lighting (Peter Teigen), but the design, by Philip Prowse, is wonderfully mock-medieval and mysterious.
As one of the first BRB shows to come our way in the reign of new director Carlos Acosta this may be looking to the past - but this company has a great past.
It seemed for a few moments at the outset on Wednesday that it was all going to be a bit too mysterious, as the opening of Act 1 lacked panache despite its discipline and precision. This is English-style dancing, we know, but it’s a Russian piece at heart.
That soon disappears as the company gets into its stride, and the swans of the corps de ballet – all 16 of them – are a joy to behold in their lovely symmetry and enchanting control.
Our cast featured Momoko Hirata as Odette and Odile, and Cesar Morales as Prince Siegfried. She’s light as a feather, dainty and delightful in the white swan pas de deux, subtly changing to seductive (though still as airy) in her black persona. She uses her eyes cleverly to create her sexiness and cocky triumph, and (with Philip Ellis in the orchestra pit whipping up the tempo of the orchestra’s allegro) the third Act finishes fast and furious.
Morales is first found alone and palely loitering in his palace, and it’s a character portrait he keeps for most of the ballet. His jumps and lifts seem effortless though, and by the close of Act 3 he, too, is flying.
There were many outstanding performances from others in this cast: the four men in Act 1, the two young Japanese ballerinas in Act 2 (and the four Cygnets, of course, solemn and cheeky at the same time), as well as Samara Downs’ alluring Polish Princess, Beatrice Parma’s dazzling contribution to the Neapolitans’ dance – in fact all the national dance sequences of Act 3 were lively and hugely enjoyable.
One stand-out for me was Maureya Lebowitz’s springy charm in the Act 1 pas de trois (she was also one of the cygnets), bringing a touch of energy early on that lifted the whole show. But BRB are always a real team and their combined efforts made for a superbly entertaining whole.
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