Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Choreography: Peter Wright, Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
The Public Reviews Rating:
The Lyric Theatre at the Lowry is so big that it can dwarf productions. The Birmingham Royal Ballet’s version of ‘Swan Lake’ uses every inch of the stage to give a show on an epic scale. Designer Philip Prowse provides sets that would be at home in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Massive marble pillars create a chilly royal court while overgrown neglected trees give an edge of menace to the forest. Dark foliage hanging over both sets generates the foreboding atmosphere of a dark fairy tale.
Lavish costumes worn by the corps de ballet emphasises the Prince’s dark, depressive, clothing and reflect Tchaikovsky’s lush score – a marvel combining vibrant strings with dramatic brass. Shows in which characters simply stand and watch while others dance can be static but here the quality is so high it is entirely credible that people would just want to observe the performances. The range of dances is amazing including flamenco and Russian variations. For sheer spectacle, however, nothing can beat the sight of the swans gently rising from the mist.
The large scale of the production does not take precedence over the storytelling, which is clearly conveyed in the vivid choreography by Peter Wright, Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa. There is an intimacy in the telling of the tale, as the effect on the individuals is shown. After the death of his father Prince Siegfried (Chi Cao) slides into depression and resists the urging of his mother to find a wife. He falls in love with Odette (Nao Sakuma) but she is cursed to spend daylight hours in the form of a swan. Siegfried’s love, if true, could save her but an evil magician has plans to thwart the lovers.
Seigfried’s indifference to the seductive dancing of potential suitors in Act 1 makes clear his depression. Cao gives a tortured and highly internalised dance to show Seigfred’s withdrawal from society. This contrasts marvellously with his spirited duets with Sakuma particularly in Act 111. Sakuma gives distinctly different performances as the White and Black Swan. Her distorted limbs give Odette an alien feel and her tiptoe vulnerability gives the sense of an imprisoned creature seeking freedom. As Odile, the Black Swan, she is more seductive and her movements wilder – even cruel.
The Birmingham Royal Ballet provides a powerful version of a classic ballet, which will delight both veterans of, and newcomers to, the genre.