Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) opened its London season with Peter Wright’s production of Swan Lake, created with the assistance of Galina Samsova in 1981. During the interval I caught up with Wright, who started to lament it was such a long time ago that he created this production… I interjected quickly saying “Yes Peter, but the production is still very much alive”. Peter smiled and retorted “Yes BRB will be doing forty some performances over the next few months… next week I am flying to Budapest to set my Swan Lake there too”.
BRB’s young ballerina, Célene Gittens, danced the lead role of Odette/Odile on the opening night. Gittens was recently promoted to First Soloist and danced the challenging role with commanding assurance, which defines her as a dancer that is on the verge of deserving ballerina status. She enters the moonlit lake side setting of Act II with the power of a swan landing on water, yet immediately portrays the role of Odette with the vulnerability of a Princess under the evil spell of the sorcerer Von Rothbart. Her expressive upper back and fluid ports de bras immediately drew Prince Siegfried, and the audience, into her world; torn and tortured by the curse bestowed upon her to live the day as a swan and Princess by night. Gittens told the story in Act II with a compelling style, with her mime gestures seeming believable, imperious, and convincing for all to see and understand.
Principal dancer Tyrone Singleton, one of BRB’s strong line-up of male dancers, opened Act I as a persuasive Prince Siegfried with promising intentions that were certainly realised in Act III. In this production he is accompanied by his equerry, Benno, impressively danced by soloist William Bracewell with musicality and precision. Set in the courtyard of the castle, the Prince’s Companions danced the Act I waltz with zest and enthusiasm that brought the audience to the edge of their seats. This was followed by the divertissement, with Benno being joined by Two Courtesans, danced tastefully by Angela Paul and Laura Purkiss. One of the main difference of this production is Wright cleverly keeps the corps de ballet females absent from dancing in this act in order to keep them fresh for the following three act marathon. I’m sure this pragmatic approach will not be lost on the ballerinas in the corps de ballet when Swan Lake is nearing the end of its run on tour.
Act III Swan Lake is always the showcase for a dance company to excite their audiences. BRB’s dancers and the production certainly do not disappoint. Indeed the whole company stepped up to the mark taking centre stage with gusto, style, panache and with an appetite to please from Hungary, Italy, Spain or Poland. I highlight the Hungarian Czárdás led brilliantly by Ruth Brill and Jonathan Caguioa and their troupe. Teasing and menacing looks that combine with the drawn out movements that are quickly finished off with a seductive quick turn and click of heels that define this most sensual of folklore dances was a delight to see. No less exciting was the Polish Mazurka which as a dance so cleverly uses the whole stage with an intriguing display of different patterns.
Gittens’ Odile oozed with scheming duplicitous qualities that test the most consummate of ballerina. This is most evident in the pas de deux where she engages Siegfried’s every moment until she knows her night’s work is done, when he is tricked and relents, swearing his undying love for Odile. Her tenacity to nail the infamous thirty-two fouettés was there for all to see… especially as every third fouetté she put in was a double for good measure! Singleton’s Siegfried matched the bravura, especially with his perfectly executed double cabrioles and saut de basque, which took his performance to another level. I have no doubt after the experience gained on the current tour audiences in the future will see a new depth to his portrayal of what is already a most likeable Prince.
The final act started with the swans emerging as if from a cloud to console the distraught Odette, who returns to the lakeside on her own wishing to kill herself before dawn. Siegfried arrives begging for forgiveness, but with the vow broken they decide that they cannot bear a life apart and they have no option but to die together and be united in a world of eternal love.
Philip Prowse’s gothic sets are fittingly sumptuous and opulent in the Castle scenes, especially in Act III with costumes to match, notably that of the Czárdás and Mazurka. The lakeside sets work less well, particularly in the final act when only those seated in the centre and right side of the auditorium see the final moments of the action. There were a few moments, and I do mean a few, where Peter Teigen’s lighting did not quite keep the audience in the picture, which did not help Von Rothbart’s quest to be seen as a major role in this production.
Peter Wright’s Swan Lake has a place in history as one of the best in the world.
Performances around the UK till 30th January 2016, brb.org.uk