Birmingham Royal Ballet at Birmingham Hippodrome *****
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s revival of Sir Peter Wright’s timeless production and choreography of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, together with the ballerina Galina Samsova, to whose recent memory this season is dedicated, comes up fresh and sparkling. Philip Prowse’s designs are breathtaking, not least the set for Act III’s ballroom (reminding me of nothing so much of the Hall of the Grail in Wagner’s Parsifal – more of that composer below), and the costumes are stunning, worn and danced in with style and aplomb.
Heading the cast on this opening night were Miki Mizutani, graceful, elegant and vulnerable as white swan Odette, proud, haughty and mesmeric as black swan Odile (that amazing sequence of multiple spins). Her partner was Cesar Morales, his Siegfried conveying melancholy throughout, his liftings of Mizutani lofting her to the heavens, where they are finally seen as translated spirits much like Senta and the Flying Dutchman in Wagner’s opera.
Haoliang Feng conveyed both concern and capability as Siegfried’s friend Benno, and Jonathan Payn was a commanding, sinister Rothbart. His eventual unmasking after Siegfried defeats him and redeems Odette was brilliant.
More than I have ever noticed was the success of gesture and body-language in the unfolding of this tale of the supernatural. Every motivation, every response was so clear in this narration.
Chorus work was remarkable, but paradoxically it was the disciplined stillness of the swans in Act II as the cygnets cheekily showed off that sticks most in the memory.
After a slightly thin beginning, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia bloomed magnificently, with wonderful violin and cello solos, a glittering display from the piccolo, and warm, secure, fanfaring brass. Conductor Paul Ellis’s clear beat was directed as much to the dancers as to his musicians.
Yet there were factions in the audience whose chatter was more important to them than the music emerging from the pit. The curtains had yet to open, after all, so there was nothing to bother about. As I have written before, we are going down the Strictly route, when we can’t wait to whoop.Christopher Morley