Birmingham Royal Ballet never fail to entertain and Swan Lake is no exception. Ballet is such an inclusive art form, the movement, the music, the set, the costume, the lights, all go to a night of wonder. These young dancers work hard, I know that because I spent two days with them in Birmingham two years ago and saw for myself how they rehearse every day and perform each evening, sometimes nine performances in a week with evening and matinee shows. They are athletes, so fit, so driven and so appreciative of an enthusiast audience. They certainly got that at Wednesday nights opening.
The story is well enough known. Young Prince (Joseph Caley) is heir to the throne and must marry. His mother (Ana Albutashvili) sets him up with eligible young women but he sees a beautiful white swan (Momoko Hirata) and when she magically transforms into a delicate young woman, he falls in love. But there’s a fly in the ointment in the shape of an evil magician (Jonathan Payn). He replaces the white swan with his daughter Odile (also danced by Momoko), who appears as a beautiful black swan and the poor prince is fooled into thinking it is the girl he loves. All doesn’t end well, the white swan, Odette throws herself into the lake to drown and the heartbroken Prince Siegfried follows her. In the end they are united in death and we see them happy and together in a vision high above the stage.
Of course, the story is much more complicated than that so it’s a good idea to read the programme notes that accompany the very lavish programme. The notes give the cast list and also a resume of the story and the various acts, the courtyard at the castle, the lakeside by moonlight and the ballroom and I must say the Opera House stage looked spectacular. The costumes are gorgeous, gold and scarlet, plum and blue and elaborate head gear added grandeur. The orchestra played Tchaikovsky with vigour and at one time as the young lovers danced, the violin accompaniment was exquisite. At another part of the ballet, the curtain went up and dry ice spilled into the auditorium, it lay a couple of feet deep covering the entire stage, suddenly 16 swans rose out of the mist and the audience gasped. There’s a lot of acting in this show, those who sit around the sides of the ballroom are in conversation through their expressions and the hand movements, delicate and enhancing the story.
One man I talked to was experiencing his first ballet and he was mesmerised, more practiced aficionados felt the opening was a bit ragged but as the ballet progressed the dancers relaxed into their parts, they smiled out at us and included us in the glory of their dance. Lovely to see so many young girls in the audience, those I spoke to were already at ballet classes, dreaming of the day they too would be on stage.
You might be lucky and get a ticket, do try, this is a lovely way to spend an evening.
by Anne Hailes
Grand Opera House Belfast
Birmingham Royal Ballet
until Saturday 7th November 2015