REVIEW: Swan Lake – Birmingham Royal Ballet

Megan Amato reviews the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s performance of Swan Lake at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh.

SWAN LAKE is one of those ballets that needs no introduction. Without having to be prompted, many of us can hum Tchaikovsky’s alluring score in our sleep. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small school show or a big production, Swan Lake will forever hold the world in Rothbart’s thrall.

Birmingham Royal Ballet is renowned worldwide for its first-class productions of ballet and contemporary dance, so I went into the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh with high expectations of the night to come. The venue was bustling on its opening night, filled with people mingling on each of its floors before staff began urgently herding them to their seats.

My guest and I had fantastic seats – close enough to see the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and the most conductor-looking conductor, Martin Georgiev, but not so close that our necks would ache from the angle. As soon as the conductor pranced in and the orchestra began, that familiar rush of endorphins filled the audience as we collectively seemed to sit straighter.

As the curtain lifted and the first act began, I knew my high expectations would be met by the stage and costume design alone. The mood of both scenes – in the palace and the forest – were expertly portrayed through every detail from the grand staircase to the exquisite details on the gowns of many of the courtiers and royal guests to the ivy in the forest.

One of my favourite aspects of any production is lighting, and Swan Lake dazzled – especially the contrast of lighting and shadows that transformed the forest scenes. The spooky atmosphere by the set designers was illuminated in just the right areas, establishing the perfect stage for the glorious and slightly ominous swans to flock and dance on their stage.

While the familiarity of the ballet may make the audience feel like they know each dance well and therefor a false sense of simplicity, the dance itself is actually one of the most technically difficult ballets. There is a reason why films and television series (like Black Swan and South Korean production Angels Last Mission: Love) have principal dancers fighting for the role of Odette/Odile – it is the role to challenge each dancer’s skillset and showcase their precise and accomplished repertoire.

Principal ballerina Céline Gittens demonstrated this with her awe-inspiring footwork and agile movements. Her acting was excellent too as she did a convincing job of creating distinction between the almost shy and naïve Odette and the coquettish and confident Odile. The choreography reflected this contrast too as when we are introduced to Odette; her movements are softer and she is mostly led by Prince Siegfried. The same cannot be said for Odile, who is bold in her pirouette’s and jumps and leads the smitten prince across the dance floor.

The same can be said for the role of Prince Siegfried. Principal dancer Brandon Lawrence is not a short man. He stands tall with impeccable posture and yet he moved across the stage with a lithe grace enviable to many. His tour en l’air at one point had me a bit dizzy, both with exhilaration and the number of times he spun with what looked like effortless grace.

The cast of dancers supporting our principals were all just as talented. The swans moved with a synchronised beauty that stole my breath and each set from the visiting princess were gorgeously done. The role of Prince Siegfried’s friend Benno, played by Riku Ito, was a particular favourite of my guest and me. His exuberant, carefree attitude could be felt from the audience in leaps and bounds – literally. He danced on the stage so naturally and with an air of enthusiasm that out eyes were often drawn to his movements.

While my soft heart prefers the alternative happier ending, Peter Wright’s production was a masterful performance that highlighted the talent and hard work of every single person involved.

Read more news and reviews on Scottish Field’s culture pages.

Plus, don’t miss author Alexander McCall Smith’s column in the April issue of Scottish Field magazine.