Swan Lake – Birmingham Royal Ballet: Sadler’s Wells, London, 13 October 2015

Something worth pondering

Tyrone Singleton and Celine Gittens put things into re-leaf in Birmingham Royal Ballet's Swan Lake

Tyrone Singleton and Celine Gittens put things into re-leaf in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake

When Swan Lake starts with a funeral then you know you’re in for something slightly different. And that’s exactly what you get with Peter Wright and Galina Samsova’s production for Birmingham Royal Ballet: something slightly different. It’s still traditional with all the luxurious 19th century costumes that you’d want and the big set-pieces are still mostly Petipa and Ivanov’s choreography but, as the funeral would indicate, things are a little darker than is typical.

The most significant and effective change comes in the first act. Siegfried’s Mum (played with fabulous disdain by Marion Tait) is a Queen Victoria-like party-pooper who ensures the castle she lives in is gloomy and fun-free. Suddenly we understand why Siegfried is such an unhappy bunny and why he’s so quickly taken with the mysterious woman he meets by the lake. It gives him a stronger, more rounded character and ultimately leads to a powerfully moving conclusion – we care that Siegfried dies too.

And this was despite the fact that Tyrone Singleton, our Prince for the evening, was a little dry in the acting department. Technically though his dancing was superb, his leaps landed as soft as a kitten and he was a perfect support for his avian loves.

Céline Gittens is a dancer of incredible poise with an outstanding ability to remain motionless on pointe and as Odette she was delicious. The Act II lakeside duet was exquisite – she melted into the role – and her distress at the ballet’s conclusion certainly brought a tear to the eyes of the two young ladies sat next to me. Her Odile came less naturally but she and Singleton brought forward cheers as they concluded their fateful pas de deux.

Act III has some odd alterations including some ungainly looking variations for the eligible princesses and Rothbart turning into a Spaniard in order to carry out his dastardly deed. However, all was redeemed by the beautiful opening to the final act when the swans stunningly rose up from the mist.

The corps performed well, as did the Royal Ballet Sinfonia (with conductor Koen Kessels adjusting tempos to suit the dancers) and William Bracewell stood out for some impressive dancing as Benno. A very fine Swan Lake indeed.

Swan Lake runs at Sadler’s Wells until 15 October 2015. Tickets can be found on the Sadler’s Wells website.

Gerard Davis

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