The theatre curtain turns a gothic black, and such a simple lighting effect to the beginning of a Tchaikovsky classic can carry various meaning to an eager audience. Birmingham Royal Ballet’s 2015 production of Swan Lake manages to capture the dramatic balance between romance and tragedy in such a way for audiences to neither distinguish between either, but revel in this new and beautiful version.
It follows the young Prince Siegfried not long after his father’s death. Torn between marriage and the freedom of his young years, when a shooting expedition in the forest leads him to his fate: a beautiful Princess under enchantment by an evil magician. Odette magically transforms into a swan by day and only by night can she return to her human form.
She explains to the Prince that the spell can only be broken by a declaration of true love. However, in Siegfried’s attempt to break the spell at his own Ball, he mistakenly declares his love to the wrong girl.
Tyrone Singleton captures the initially lost Prince Siegfried with solemn expression and swift certainty of movement, instantly coming alive in sight of Odette. The pas de deux between the pair equally showed off skill and chemistry.
Céline Gittens was seemingly effortless in her white swan counterpart – it was as though her shoes barely graced the ground. Equally majestic performances from William Bracewell as Benno and Samara Downs in her interpretation of the Polish Princess.
Commendations for the Cygnets in Act II when dancing the pas de chat with such sustained flow. Also the other Princesses bringing extra sass and vigour to the ceremony that would rival Odile. At first seeing Gittens white swan performance I thought a “Natalie Portman white swan” complex may prevail. Yet as she grew into Odile’s moves, her expression donned a sharper edge, proving her talent for both characters.
Altogether the ensemble choreography remained elaborate and statuesque, especially in the opening moments of Act IV where an array of Swan Maidens and Cygnets appeared through layered smoke. It is something that Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov and Peter Wright should be immensely secure in knowing the audience was completely transfixed.
Prowse’s designs complimented the production’s style of the story wonderfully. From the exquisite inner grandeur to bleakly mystical lakeside, the overall look of the piece was stunning. Also atmospherically brought to life by Peter Tiegen’s clever lighting displays, such as the moonlight over the moving lake waters.
The costume design richly clashed together romantic and tragic themes, starting with billowing greys and purples in the first act, to the Great Hall in Act III conveying deep fiery reds and gold for the Ball ceremony.
The Finale image of settling swans around Benno holding the Prince in his arms, powerfully counteracting the backdrop image of the lovers embracing is enough to award standing ovation. This production has tied the two themes of the story together so well you cannot break them apart. The drive of Tchaikovsky’s Music would make for romance to eternally remain its essential theme, but this outstanding production from Birmingham Royal Ballet has reached new levels in proclaiming the importance of both.