Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky; Lev Ivanov, Marius Petipa, Peter Wright
Peter Wright and Galina Samsova
The Lowry, Salford Quays, March 2-4, 2023; 2 hours 45 minutes (including two intervals)
(also Sunderland Empire, March 9-11)
Swan Lake is perhaps the pinnacle of 19th century Russian ballet. With this piece, Tchaikovsky reformed the principle of ballet music, giving power to the musical composition rather than the choreographer.
Often maudlin - like Tchaikovsky himself - and tragic but with a lightness of touch, the score epitomises what the dancers embody. Human emotion is tangibly intertwined with graceful avian movement and the flocking of downy white tutus.
Birmingham Royal Ballet's production delivers on all that spectacle, drawing us into the Russia of folklore with its threatening sorcery, dark forests, and magical creatures.
We are startled by a macabre royal funeral procession, emerging from, then returning to, the dark, foreshadowing the young Prince Siegfried's (Mathias Dingman) journey from youth to tragedy. Immediately we are cast into a 21st party, at which Dingman skillfully displays Siegfried’s edgy, youthful masculinity and reluctance to shoulder responsibility. The family dynamic here is spot on.
Another highlight is the beautiful performance of Enrique Bejarano Vidal as Siegfied’s friend Benno, whose powerful grace is a joy to watch as he effortlessly floats above the stage.
In Act II, the dark gothic pillars of the brooding forest are home to the enchanted maidens, changed into swans by an evil sorcerer. The corps de ballet creates a magnificent, ethereal flock, beautifully evoking the grace of swans and exuberance of cygnets.
Designer Philip Prowse excels again in Act III, with an opulent interior for the grand reception, with scenic design a key player with spectacular scenery, lighting and sumptuous costumes.
Dazzling national folk dancers entertain, with the fanfare passages and tambourine dance of particular note. We also meet Odile, a temptress conjured by the sorcerer, who deceives our hero in a brilliantly-executed pas de deux. The dance is technically breathtaking, with its famous 32 fouettes ("whipping turns") performed at this performance by principal Momoko Hirata. Odile seduces Siegfried into a false union while his true love, Odette, is lost in desperation. Hirata dances Odile and Odette, her allure significantly more arresting as the temptress.
Though mesmerising in its opening, with swans rising from the mist, the final act of this Swan Lake is the most impressive, with its desperate pas de deux between Siegfried and Odette, a beautiful evocation of hopeless, lost love.
There were tears in the audience as the lovers dance for the final time, in the knowledge that the tragedy is complete. Meanwhile the swans, in full attack mode, despatch the evil sorcerer in a moment that is absolutely thrilling.
Peter Wright’s Swan Lake offers a traditional production with contemporary dramatic values, and an abundance of emotional involvement. Pauses in the dramatic flow for bows and ensemble exits seem, on occasion, to stilt the action. Tchaikovsky’s epic score offers a structure that was modern for its time, but leaves a couple of gaps in a modern-day production. And yet the audience remains delighted; this is a beautiful production, its 19th Century origins enhanced with gothic splendour, working in synergy with incredible dancing and acting, and beautiful technical effects that bring us right up to date.
Review features contributed text by Margaret Webber
Info and tickets here